BEIJING: China and Southeast Asian countries agreed on Thursday (May 18) to a draft framework for a long-mooted code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea, China's foreign ministry said.
China and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had been hoping to this year agree on the framework, 15 years after committing to draft it.
Some ASEAN diplomats have expressed concern about whether China is being sincere, or whether ASEAN has enough leverage to get Beijing to commit to a set of rules.
After a meeting between Chinese and ASEAN officials in the southern city of Guiyan, China's foreign ministry said the draft framework had been agreed upon, although it gave no details of its contents.
“We are pleased to announce that the senior officials have completed the negotiations of the draft COC (code of conduct) framework, ahead of the mid-2017 timeline which leaders of ASEAN and China had set.
“This draft COC framework will be submitted to the foreign ministers for consideration,” according to a joint press statement issued at the end of the one-day senior officials' meeting.
The talks had been candid and deep and made positive achievements, it added.
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 claims almost the entire waterway, through which about US$5 trillion in goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
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 August meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Manila, capital of the Philippines.