FOREIGN ministers from Southeast Asia and China yesterday adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the move created a solid foundation for negotiations that could start this year if “the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and on the premise that there is no major interference from outside parties.”
He told reporters there had been “tangible progress” so there was “a need to cherish momentum on the South China Sea.”
Wang said the start of talks for a code of conduct in the disputed waters may be announced by the heads of state of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations at their annual summit in the Philippines in November if China’s conditions are met.
Wang told a news conference in Manila that those conditions include non-interference by outside parties, an apparent reference to the United States, which China has frequently accused of meddling in an Asian dispute that should be resolved only by the countries involved.
“If there is no major disruption from outside parties, with that as the precondition, then we will consider during the November leaders’ meeting, we will jointly announce the official start of the code of conduct consultation,” Wang said.
The situation in the South China Sea should also be “generally stable,” he said.
“China and ASEAN have the ability to work together to maintain regional peace and stability, and we will work out regional rules that we mutually agreed upon so as to open up a bright future for our future relations,” he said.
Philippine government spokesman Robespierre Bolivar also announced the adoption of the framework and consensus on steps to start negotiations on the actual code.
“The leaders of ASEAN and China are expected to announce the formal start of negotiations on the code at their summit in November,” Bolivar told reporters.
Wang congratulated ASEAN on its 50th anniversary, saying China is happy for ASEAN’s development and achievements while expressing best wishes for ASEAN’s development in the next 50 years.
ASEAN a force for peace
As an important regional organization, ASEAN has become a major force in promoting regional integration and maintaining regional peace and stability, Wang said.
China has always taken ASEAN as a priority in its foreign diplomacy and has always supported ASEAN in taking a central role in regional cooperation and a bigger role in dealing with international and regional affairs, he said.
As China and ASEAN celebrate the 15th anniversary of strategic partnership next year, both sides are also facing a critical point to bring the ties to a higher level, Wang said, calling for future actions to build a higher level China-ASEAN strategic partnership and a closer community of common destiny of China and ASEAN.
Wang outlined a seven-point proposal for the future.
First, to formulate a 2030 Vision for China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership as a blueprint to guide future relations.
Second, to synergize the Belt and Road initiative and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, and further expand the scope and dimension for bilateral cooperation.
Third, to designate 2018 as China-ASEAN Year of Innovation, give full play to the complementarity of innovation-driven development of China and innovation-driven growth of ASEAN, and launch the upgrading of China-ASEAN cooperation.
Fourth, to accelerate the implementation of the outcomes on upgrading the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and safeguard the global free trade regime.
Fifth, to fully implement the China-ASEAN Joint Statement on Production Capacity Cooperation and boost each other’s industrialization process.
Sixth, to build new pillars for people-to-people exchanges and cooperation, ensure the success of the China-ASEAN Tourism Cooperation Year, and issue a joint statement on tourism cooperation so as to consolidate public support and social foundation for bilateral relations.
Seventh, to expedite negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and lead the process of regional integration together.
Foreign ministers of the ASEAN nations congratulated China on the success of the recent Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, thanked China for its support on ASEAN’s community building, recognized the positive progress of ASEAN-China ties in the past year and agreed with the depth and achievements of the China-ASEAN relations.