The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, Julie Bishop, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Taro Kono, and the Secretary of State of the United States, Rex Tillerson, met in Manila, the Philippines, on August 7, 2017, for the seventh ministerial meeting of the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD).
The ministerial meeting, however, had "very limited time for more in-depth" discussion of the issues raised, but the Philippines, as this year's chair of ASEAN, wants to see a "legally binding code of conduct" in the disputed sea region.
China has reclaimed some of the disputed features in the South China Sea, including those ruled by an worldwide arbitration court to be part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, and fortified them with military structures and hardware.
Ahead of the meetings, outspoken Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte branded Kim Jong Un as "crazy" for "playing with unsafe toys" that endangered the entire region.
Signing China up to a legally binding and enforceable code for the strategic waterway has always been a goal for claimant members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), some of which have sparred for years over what they see as China's disregard for their sovereign rights and its blocking of fishermen and energy exploration efforts. However, China unilaterally started work to build artificial islands and military facilities in that sea area, and this has prompted ASEAN to advocate devising a pertinent code of conduct at an early date.
Just a year ago, The Hague tribunal ruling (in favour of the Philippines and against China) offered fresh hope for a power rebalance in the tumultuous waters.
As President Donald Trump succeeded Barack Obama, who had challenged China's assertive advances in the disputed sea, USA allies wondered if Trump would press America's role as a regional counterbalance to the Asian powerhouse.
By readjusting its approach and attitude, and sincerely joining hands with the other ASEAN members to consolidate the positive progress made in ASEAN-China ties over the past year, Vietnam can help raise China-ASEAN relations to a new level.
China had always been perceived as delaying negotiations with ASEAN so it can undertake and complete construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea without being restricted by any maritime code. This has delayed the expected release of an ASEAN communique today.
"A non-binding COC would be a disaster of the first order".
The United States says it will be watching China closely to ensure it fully and continuously implements new U.N. sanctions on North Korea.
The United States, Australia and Japan immediately weighed in, urging China and ASEAN "to ensure that the code of conduct be finalized in a timely manner, and that it be legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with global law". Ri tried to make the most of it, holding meetings with the top diplomats from China and Russian Federation, two countries that voted in favor of the latest United Nations sanctions. "If China opposes those actions, so be it".