Reuters - China has started talks with the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to formalise a code of conduct in disputed territories in the South China Sea, Beijing’s ambassador to Manila said last week.
The move coincides with a major spat between China and Japan over a chain of uninhabited islets that both claim in the East China Sea, in what analysts say is a sign of growing Chinese assertiveness at sea that has worried other Asian nations.
Six parties are involved in a complex set of territorial disputes in the South China Sea — Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. All except Brunei have military forces on territories claimed in the sea.
“I think there are already some discussions, it’s still going on at the working level,” Liu Jianchao, China’s ambassador to the Philippines, told journalists, saying the two sides were working on a more formal document to avoid activities that might escalate tension.
In August, ASEAN proposed establishing a code of conduct. China, which claims sovereignty over the whole of the disputed waters and has favoured one-on-one talks, has not previously acknowledged the multilateral negotiations.
China has been riled by the U.S. position on the territorial issues after Washington said it has a national interest in freedom of navigation in international waters.
A Filipino diplomat, who declined to be named, said the two sides are due to meet in Hanoi next month to discuss the South China Sea dispute, hoping to formalise a legally binding code.
Liu said China is willing to work with other parties on a formal code. “We are ready to work with other countries in ASEAN in formulating such a document,” he added.
In 2002, China and ASEAN signed a declaration to halt military activities and promote cooperation on scientific, environment and non-military projects to lessen tension after China and Vietnam fought a naval battle in the late 1980s.
Most claimants are trying to develop tourism on or around some of the islands they hold in the sea to bolster their claims.
Earlier this month, Manila said it would repair and upgrade its military outposts in the area that have deteriorated due to poor maintenance and longstanding neglect.