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May 19, 2017

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Nations agree on South China Sea

CHINA and Southeast Asian countries yesterday agreed a framework for a code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea as both sides stepped up efforts to ease tensions in the strategic waterway.

China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had been hoping to agree the framework this year, 15 years after committing to draft it.

After officials met in Guiyang, capital of southwest China’s Guizhou Province, China’s foreign ministry said the framework had been agreed, although it gave no details of its contents. The talks had been candid and deep and made positive achievements, it said 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,” it added.

China’s 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, in an apparent coded message to the United States. “We hope that our consultations on the code are not subject to any outside interference,” he said.

Chee Wee Kiong, permanent secretary at Singapore’s foreign ministry, said a draft framework would be submitted to a meeting of the foreign ministers of China and the ASEAN states in the Philippines in August.

“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,” Chee said, referring to the code of conduct.

Negotiators from China and ASEAN met in Indonesia and Cambodia in the last few months to try to reach a final draft which could be approved ahead of the foreign ministers meeting.

Meanwhile, China said a meeting of Japanese and New Zealand prime ministers regarding the South China Sea was “inappropriate.”

A joint press release by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and New Zealand counterpart Bill English called on parties to settle their territorial disputes in the South China Sea in light of a 2016 ruling by an international arbitral tribunal, according to Japan’s Kyoto News.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “With joint efforts by involved parties, including China, the South China Sea situation has stabilized and improved.”

Japan has used this situation to make trouble, play up non-existent tensions and redirect attention to the so-called arbitral tribunal, while involved parties have already turned a page, Hua told a regular press briefing.

“We have to ask, what does Japan truly care about? Is it concerned about the stability of the South China Sea, or is it afraid of China-Philippines and China-ASEAN relations developing as the situation stabilizes?”

She said Japan should focus on building trust among regional countries and promoting peace and stability.

Hua also called on Japan to turn its commitment to improving relations with China into concrete policies and actions.

“We hope countries outside the region will correctly comprehend the situation, treat the South China Sea issue objectively and rationally, not allow themselves to be taken advantage by other countries, and contribute to regional peace and stability,” Hua said.

During the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing earlier this week, the leaders of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam expressed willingness to enhance cooperation with China and maintain regional peace and stability, she said.

Today, China and the Philippines will convene the first meeting of the bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea issue in Guiyang, Hua said. “Both sides expect to overcome their differences through dialogue, boost maritime cooperation, and continue to create conditions for resolving disputes,” she added.


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