The South China Morning Post reports that “A bloc of Southeast Asian nations and China have agreed on a draft code of conduct that will lay the foundation for talks over the disputed South China Sea, the foreign ministers of Singapore and China announced on Thursday.“
The article goes on to explain that “The agreement came as diplomats from China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) met in Singapore, with maritime disputes high on the agenda … [because] … Several Southeast Asian countries and China have conflicting claims over the resource-rich waters through which billions of US dollars in trade flows each year … [and] … They have long discussed a deal to defuse tensions but the talks have been hindered by sticking points such as the area the agreement should cover … [however] … Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the agreement on the draft was a new and important step for the code of conduct deliberations.“
This is an issue which goes back to the early 1990s and some experts think this is just a bit of window dressing because China has already achieved it primary, strategic goals and is now, in fact, engaged on a new ‘charm offensive‘ that include giving warships to the Philippines.
Even if the critics are right, even if this is just window dressing designed to hide the fact that China has succeeded to driving a wedge between the ASEAN nations and the USA, this must be seen as “one small step” away from active hostilities. But if it is then it must also be seen as a diplomatic “win” for China and, concomitantly, a “loss” for President Donald Trump and America.