MANILA - A legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea may restrain the Philippines while giving China a "free pass" for past violations, an international law professor said Tuesday.
Southeast Asian nations and China agreed this week to start negotiations on the code of conduct, after Beijing used the last few years to build massive structures on disputed outcrops.
"The scope of the COC is now more limited to preventing escalation of incidents," said Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines.
"Ultimately that's what happens, it restrains us. Of course, it keeps the peace but it is a peace now that is basically dominated by China," he said.
China and Asean forged a non-binding declaration on the disputed waters in 2002, which sought self-restraint from parties on the construction of new structures.
"China has undertaken massive reclamation and essentially has violated that principle of self-restraint already," Batongbacal said.
"Yet the parties right now have chosen to sort of ignore it. There have been no consequences on China for undertaking that reclamation," he said.