The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Beijing met on Wednesday in Laos to discuss the South China Sea territorial dispute issues.
The 10 country Asean group, consisting of Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, resumed their discussions here on how to advance economic integration, before meeting with the Chinese delegation, headed by Prime Minister Li Keqiang, EFE news reported.
In addition to the economy, the dialogue between the two sides will also seek to address the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China claims almost the entire maritime area through which some $5 trillion worth of goods are annually transported and which contains large fishing grounds and potential oil and gas deposits.
China has claims to areas which are also claimed by Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Philippines and Vietnam have sought in the past that Asean opposes as a united front the Chinese claim, but were frustrated at recent summits by a veto of Cambodia, where China has large investment projects.
Both sides are expected to approve a pact reached in August in order to complete a long-negotiated code of conduct, under negotiation since 2010, to ease the tension in that area, and to create an emergency communications protocol in case of crisis.
Several incidents between coast guards and fishermen of involved countries have taken place in recent years in the disputed area, and China accelerated the construction of facilities for its military use on various islets in the South China Sea.
The territorial dispute threatens to overshadow discussions on the Asean economy. The group, on January 1, was formally constituted as Asean Community, with a population of 622 million people and a GDP of $2.5 trillion.
Besides its talks with China, Asean will hold bilateral and multilateral meetings with the US, South Korea, Japan, Australia and the UN.