MANILA — As an “interested party” in the achievement of peace in the Pacific region, the United States is encouraging transparency in the negotiations for the crafting of the Code of Conduct (COC) on the West Philippine Sea.

In a conference call with the press on Thursday, Patrick Murphy, US State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia, said Washington welcomed the fact that there is now an inclusive dialogue to manage maritime disputes in the sea lane.

“All 10 members of ASEAN with China are participating in that dialogue. That’s the good news,” Murphy said.

“At the same time, as an interested party, we very much encourage that this process be transparent, that it leads to a binding, meaningful result in accordance with international law,” he added.

While the US is not a claimant country, Murphy stressed they are a “very interested and engaged country” as part of the Pacific region.

“We have great interest in this part of the world for our commerce, but also in exercising our legal freedoms of navigation and overflight,” he said.

For more than a decade, China and the ASEAN reaffirmed their commitment to work towards the early adoption of the COC. But it was only during the 20th ASEAN-China Summit in November last year that development on the document began to move forward.

As the dialogue progresses, Murphy encouraged parties to adhere to the basic principles of international law, as he cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on a case between the Philippines and China, and the 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) on the West Philippine Sea.

Murphy said COC discussions can only work if the environment is conducive for dialogue.

“That’s why we encourage all parties to cease any militarization, construction or reclamation of disputed outposts,” he said. “That would be in accordance with the 2002 DOC and that would improve the backdrop, the environment for successful dialogue.”

Murphy said in a negotiation, there is a ceiling and a floor. In the case of the COC discussions, the floor is the 2002 DOC.

“The current discussions, in our view, should not go any lower than that floor, but in fact should be aspirational to put in place results that, as I say, are binding and in accordance with international law.”

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