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ASEAN, Beijing Agree to Talks on South China Sea Code

ASEAN, Beijing Agree to Talks on South China Sea Code

The contending states should clarify their claims peacefully in accordance with a 1982 maritime treaty and worldwide law, according to the three, who met on the sidelines of annual meetings of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in Manila, including those from China and Russian Federation.

Analysts and some Asean diplomats worry that China's sudden support for negotiating a code of conduct is a ploy to buy time to further boost its military capability.

China has made sweeping claims over the South China Sea, a vital waterway through which US$5 trillion in sea-borne trade passes each year.

Even when its claims to South China Sea may be legitimate, Vietnam finds itself isolated in the ASEAN regional forum.

Japan has been calling on parties concerned to faithfully follow the July 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands, that rejected China's claims in its territorial dispute with the Philippines in the South China Sea.

On the territorial disputes in the South China Sea that embroil ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, the 10 foreign ministers on Saturday approved a framework of a long-proposed code of conduct aimed at preventing clashes in the disputed waters, Bolivar said.

In a joint communique issued by ASEAN on Sunday evening, the regional bloc expressed concerns over China's land reclamation activities and called for the non-militarization of the disputed waters.

"This will not only benefit our two countries, but also show the world the bright future of more positive, more predictable and more sustainable relations between our two countries", Wang said at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.




They also mentioned in their statement a vague reference to an global arbitration ruling past year that invalidated China's historical claims to virtually all of the strategic waterway.

The role of the Philippines as 2017 chair of Asean has helped China keep a lid on discord.

"China and ASEAN have the ability and wisdom to work together to maintain regional peace and stability", he said.

The ministers had been debating for at least two days on how to respond to China collectively, with Vietnam said to be strongly resisting an agreement on the framework for a code of conduct as pushed by Beijing.

"Vietnam is adamant, and China is effectively using Cambodia to champion its interests".

The ASEAN-China meeting was part of a flurry of one-to-one meetings held Sunday between foreign ministers from the Southeast Asian bloc and top diplomats from other countries including Japan, the United States, India and Russian Federation.

The Philippines, which serves as ASEAN chairman this year, called the conclusion of talks between China and ASEAN to finalize the framework "a very big step".

The Philippines scored a major legal victory past year, when an global tribunal in the Hague threw out most of China's territorial claims, but since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte, Manila has become less confrontational with Beijing.

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