World

Cautious progress in South China Sea talks

China and Asean agree on code of conduct framework after 15 years

BEIJING: China and South-east Asian countries agreed yesterday to a framework for a long-mooted code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea, China's foreign ministry said, as both sides step up efforts to ease tension in the strategic waterway.

China and the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) had been hoping to this year agree on the framework, 15 years after committing to draft it.

Some South-east Asian countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the United States, have expressed concern at what they see as China's militarisation of the South China Sea, including building air strips on man-made islands.

After a meeting between Chinese and Asean officials in the Chinese city of Guiyang, China's foreign ministry said the framework had been agreed upon, although it gave no details of its contents.

The talks had been candid and deep and made positive achievements, it added in a statement.

All parties "uphold using the framework of regional rules to manage and control disputes, to deepen practical maritime cooperation, to promote consultation on the code and jointly maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea".

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhemin, in comments carried on state television, said the framework was comprehensive and took into account the concerns of all sides.

But he called on others to stay out. "We hope that our consultations on the code are not subject to any outside interference," Mr Liu said.

Singapore Foreign Affairs Ministry Permanent Secretary Chee Wee Kiong, said what he called a "draft" framework would be submitted to a meeting between the foreign ministers of China and the Asean states in August in the Philippines.

"We hope to continue the positive momentum of consultation and make steady progress towards a substantive CoC based on consensus as directed by our leaders," Mr Chee said, in remarks also shown on Chinese state television, referring to the code of conduct.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$6.96 trillion) in goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. 
- REUTERS

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