In Phnom Penh last month, a visibly frustrated and disappointed Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr called on China and nine Southeast Asian neighbors to immediately conclude talks on a formal regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

“Well, nothing new actually has happened in terms of the Code of Conduct,” Marcos told reporters when asked if there was any movement in the Code’s agreement.

“We all just restated over and over again. We need to have a Code of Conduct…to be very, very clear about what it is that we are agreeing upon.”

In 2002, also in Phnom Penh, China agreed with Southeast Asian states to a non-binding agreement, called the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). It prohibited some activities in the disputed waters, including occupation of uninhabited features.

For many years, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have been negotiating for a legally binding Code that will govern the behavior of countries in the disputed strategic waterway where about $3 trillion worth of seaborne goods pass every year.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea. Brunei. Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the body of water believed to have rich deposits of energy resources and fisheries.

Although China has observed the DOC, it continued to violate the sovereignty of other Asean states by sending hundreds of ships in the South China Sea and turning its seven artificial islands into garrisons to push out other claimants in the area.

China’s coercive and aggressive behavior continues to threaten regional peace and stability, making the United States, Australia, Japan, and other Western countries worry over Beijing’s long-term intentions in the region.

For instance, in December alone, there were two significant incidents in the South China Sea that affected the Philippines sovereign rights in its own 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

A dozen armed militia vessels and law enforcement ships were spotted “swarming” Sabina Shoal or what is locally known as Escoda Shoal and the southern portion of Reed Bank – two areas closer to Palawan.

These vessels have been blocking traditional sea routes to the Spratlys where the Philippines has nine occupied features.

The Philippine Navy has been hiring civilian vessels to regularly deliver water, food, fuel, and other supplies to troops manning these features.

China has been harassing these civilian boats, shadowing the resupply missions and warning the boat’s crew not to bring in construction materials to repair the rusting BRP Sierra Madre transport ship that ran aground in Second Thomas Shoal, or Ayungin Shoal.

In some occasions, the Chinese Coast Guard and militia fleet would cast nets at the mouth of Ayungin Shoal to prevent the resupply vessel from delivering its supplies.

But the Chinese had routinely challenged local vessels through marine radio that they were entering China’s territory even if they were clearly within Philippine EEZ.

Of the nine Philippine-occupied features, only the largest island, Pagasa, or Thitu island, is outside of the country’s EEZ but is still within an area claimed by the country as part of Kalayaan Group of Islands based on a Marcos decree in the 1970s.

China’s activities in the South China Sea are clearly disruptive and a violation of the country’s EEZ under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

The country’s rights were affirmed by an international tribunal in 2016 when it declared China’s nine-dash-line claims as excessive and illegal.

However, Beijing rejected the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and continued to ignore the ruling.

As a result, the United States, France, and the European Union came up with an Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

Washington even put up a Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), setting aside $66 billion for this year alone. About $5.1 billion will go to the Hawaii-based Indo-Pacific Command to build a strong deterrence, new ships and planes, and early warning systems.

Next year, another North American country, Canada, will join the Indo-Pacific club, unveiling its own, C$2.3-billion Indo-Pacific Strategy for the next five years. More than C$700 million will go to strengthening its military engagements in the region, such as deploying more ships and planes and joining like-minded states in exercises and training.

A bigger chunk of the funds, C$900 million, will be spent on investments in ocean management and infrastructure, directly competing with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

A Canadian embassy official has also described China as a “disruptive global power” as its influence spread to the numerous and tiny South Pacific islands as well as African and South American states.

Canada’s 10-year Indo-Pacific strategy focuses more on trade and investment and security although it has a small navy and air force.

It does not intend to join the four-country Quad mechanism of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States nor the strategic alliance of Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS), which aimed to build nuclear-powered submarines for Canberra.

Ottawa said it was the first time the country would be putting up a detailed economic and security plan for the Indo-Pacific where 21 various departments got together to draw up a strategy that will start in April next year.

It was not only worried about China but Canada’s future lies in the Indo-Pacific region, where five of the world’s largest economies are located.

By 2040, half of the world’s GDP will come from the region, which includes China, Japan, India, South Korea, and Australia. The combined GDP of the five economies is nearly $30 trillion, more than the $17-trillion economy of the entire European Union composed of 27 states.

The Canadian embassy official said the Indo-Pacific strategy is not anti-China. “We will challenge China when we ought to. And we will cooperate with China when we must,” he said.

“Canada will continue to speak up for universal human rights, including those of Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other religious and ethnic minorities. It will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Hong Kong, faced with China’s imposition of the National Security Law.”

At the same time, Canada will also continue to work with partners to push back against any unilateral actions that threaten the status quo in the Taiwan Straits, as well as the East and South China Seas.

“Canada will pursue new solutions to push back against behaviors that undermine international norms, such as arbitrary detention and economic coercion,” he added.

Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy does not only reinforce the belief that China is a coercive and disruptive power that should be disciplined.

It also added pressure to make China behave as a responsible member of the international community, reducing tension in this part of the world.