An interesting announcement last week was all but lost amid the political noise. Come April, Thailand will try its hand at convincing both its own Asean partners and China to agree and sign a code of conduct concerning the South China Sea. At first glance, it seems a thankless task. Others have tried and failed to conclude such a pact. But there are hints and signs that one last big effort could spell success.
The code of conduct is itself a preliminary step, and a compromise. That is because the nations concerned have refused even to discuss the main problem. Special rules are needed for the South China Sea _ and for the East China Sea as well, come to that _ because there are conflicting territorial claims. In the past there have been mortal battles fought over tiny shoals and reefs. And since no country is willing to back down on its claims of ownership, a code of conduct has been proposed to at least try to lessen the threat of war to the greatest extent possible.
Permanent secretary for foreign affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow announced last Thursday he would try to make it happen. In April, senior foreign ministry officials of all 10 Asean countries and China will meet. As host and automatic chairman, Thailand will set the agenda. Mr Sihasak has already put the South China Sea as topic No1. That was the easy part. The next three months will be spent in heavy lobbying, diplomatic arm-twisting and even occasional talks with the media _ all designed to build pressure on participants to get out their pens in April and sign a meaningful document.
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