Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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ASEAN, China to De-escalate Tensions in South China Sea with New Deal


(Photo : ASEAN) ASEAN member states

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China next week will sign protocols they hope will lessen the chance of armed conflict over the South China Sea.

To be signed at Laos during the three-day ASEAN summit will be the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). CUES is a communications protocol arrangement and is the first agreement of its kind, said Helen de la Vega, Assistant Secretary at the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs. It will also establish hotlines between China and the ASEAN governments.

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"It's one way of de-escalating tensions in the South China Sea," said de la Vega.

"This is very important because any accident that can lead to a major confrontation will be avoided if our navies and coast guards are communicating with each other," said an unnamed Philippine Navy officer.

He said there were situations in the past when Chinese ships ignored and refused to contact Philippine Navy ships upon being approached.

The ongoing South China Sea dispute pits ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia against China that still claims to own the South China Sea. This despite an arbitration court ruling last July 12 nullifying China's nine-dash line claim, and saying China had infringed on the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the South China Sea.

China has since become more belligerent, threatening war, holding naval drills and making angry faces at its enemies, particularly the United States.

Representatives from the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and Russia will also attend the ASEAN summit. The United States, Japan and Australia are expected to call on China to respect and comply with the ruling of the arbitration court during the  summit.

It's estimated that some about $5 trillion sea-borne trade annually transits the South China Sea.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration's (PCA) ruling in the South China Sea case filed by the Philippines has been labeled a "sweeping victory" against China.

It concluded that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights within the nine-dash line in the South China Sea. It also ruled that none of the land features in the Spratlys meet the criteria for an island that China -- or any other country -- can use to claim a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Many countries including the United States, Australia and Japan welcomed the arbitration outcome and pressured China to comply with the ruling.

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