China and Southeast Asian countries agreed on Thursday to a 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 framework had been agreed upon, although it gave no details of its contents.
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The talks had been candid and deep and made positive achievements, it added in a short 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 claims almost the entire waterway, through which about $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.