BEIJING has won support from nations surrounding the disputed South China Sea for its proposed new ‘code of conduct’ — and says it won’t allow ‘outsiders’ to disturb the region again.
“The situation in the South China Sea has calmed down visibly as a result of the joint efforts of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, a blessing to the region and the world,” China’s foreign minister Wang Yi said overnight.
But in a clear signal to the United States, China has declared it would “never allow hard-won stability in the South China Sea to be disturbed or undermined again,” state-run news agency Xinhua reports.
“At this moment, if someone should try to make waves and stir trouble, they will have no support and face common opposition of the entire region,” Wang said.
The Declaration on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea was designed to establish common ground and lay-down a set of regional rules to avoid conflict over the region’s fisheries, shipping lanes and mineral and energy resources.
It outlines a regional ‘crisis management’ process.
China claims nearly all of the waters, putting it in conflict with a number of regional neighbours, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Borneo and Indonesia who argue that large parts belong to them.
Beijing renewed its efforts to impose a regional agreement after rejecting an international court of arbitration’s ruling last year ruled that China had no valid historical claim to the vast expanse of water through which $5 trillion in trade passes each year.
Beijing insists the international court has no jurisdiction over the region.
While the court action was brought by the Philippines, its new president Duturte has brought about a major shift in that nation’s sympathies towards Beijing and away from Washington.
Negotiations between the 10-members of ASEAN and China had begun as early as 2010. After protracted negotiations and debate, Wang says recent talks had made ‘clear progress’.
“China and ASEAN countries feel satisfied with this,” he said.
He said any further ‘freedom of navigation’ exercises, though he did not name the United States, would be coldly received by all South-East Asian nations.
“We definitely will not allow this stable situation, which has been hard to come by, be damaged or interfered with,” he said.
“Even between China and the United States, if we change our mindset, the vast ocean will become a broad stage of co-operation.”
The agreement comes amid renewed concerns that China has armed the chain of artificial island fortresses and airfields it has built up in the Spratley and Parcel islands. Beijing insists these are self-defence missiles and anti-aircraft guns only.