China seeks framework to resolve sea disputes

Updated: 2011-11-16 08:34

By Li Xiaokun and Zheng Yangpeng (China Daily)

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BEIJING - China has long sought a regional code of conduct for the South China Sea, which some Southeast Asian nations are calling for, to help properly settle territorial disputes there, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday.

Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin made the remarks at a briefing about Premier Wen Jiabao's attendance at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia summits on the Indonesian island of Bali later this week.

"China and ASEAN countries set enacting a code of conduct (COC) as a goal in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed in 2002," Liu said.

The DOC is a set of non-binding rules, while Vietnam and the Philippines have been actively promoting a legally binding COC.

"Enacting a COC is part of the process to implement the DOC. China is willing to actively push forward the implementation of the DOC with ASEAN nations," Liu said.

But Liu added that Beijing hoped the issue would not be discussed at the two-day East Asia Summit.

The Philippines said this week it was looking to form a united front on the South China Sea issue among ASEAN members meeting on Bali.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio said her country would raise its proposal at every opportunity at the summits.

But the Philippines' initiative, including a call for a meeting of parties with claims in the area, lost steam on Tuesday when Malaysia indicated it would not take part.

"China is showing a positive step by organizing seminars and workshops, that is very positive. ASEAN should reciprocate on that," Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told AFP.

"To introduce another forum will complicate the matter further," he said, adding it was more constructive to concentrate on the non-binding 2002 DOC.

"The South China Sea issue has nothing to do with the East Asia Summit because the East Asia Summit is a forum for discussing economic cooperation and development," said Liu.

China's position on the South China Sea issue is clear and consistent, he said.

"China believes that the dispute should be resolved through peaceful consultation among parties directly concerned."

He added that the intervention of outside forces is not helpful for the settlement of the issue.

"On the contrary, it will only complicate the issue and sabotage peace, stability and development in the region."

The East Asia Summit will be the first attended by a US president, while Russia will also officially make its debut there. US President Barack Obama will meet Wen during the summit, according to Liu.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to discuss the South China Sea issue with Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin after she arrives in Manila on Tuesday for an overnight visit.

The US has irritated China by saying that it too has a stake in the South China Sea and advocating multilateral negotiations on the issue with US participation.

Chu Hao, a researcher on Southeast Asian studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the priority for countries involved in the South China Sea issue is to firmly hold the line specified in the DOC.

Chu said the recent flooding in Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, would make food security a hot topic on the agenda of the East Asia Summit.

"ASEAN, along with China, Japan and South Korea, are all concerned with the possible volatility of food prices," he said.

Other possible major topics, according to Chu, will include climate change, disaster relief and a coordinated crisis management mechanism.

Luo Yongkun, another expert with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Indonesia, which holds ASEAN's rotating chairmanship this year, will take to the summit the issue of how ASEAN should better interact with other powers.