Published: Wed, August 09, 2017
Money | By Oscar Reynolds

China, ASEAN to test waters on South China Sea talks

China, ASEAN to test waters on South China Sea talks

Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (left) greets Myanmar Minister of State for Foreign Affairs U Kyaw Tin during the reception for the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City, south Manila, Philippines, on August 5.

They also urged China and the Philippines to abide by last year's worldwide arbitration ruling on the South China Sea.

Analysts believe China will continue to grow its influence in ASEAN at a time of uncertainty over the Trump administration's security priorities and whether it will try to keep China's aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea in check.

Earlier, Southeast Asian nations feuded over how to respond to Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, with Vietnam insisting on a tough stance but Cambodia lobbying hard for Beijing, diplomats said.

Concern has mounted that North Korea is developing its missile technology quicker than expected, after tests last month of missiles that experts said are capable of striking the USA mainland, perhaps as far inland as Chicago.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including waters approaching the coasts of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Another diplomat says the wordings on the South China Sea issue to be included in the communique had not yet been finalized Saturday.

China's territorial disputes in the strategic waterway with five other governments intensified after it built islands in disputed waters and reportedly started to install a missile defense system on them, alarming rival claimant states and Western governments.

According to a copy of a draft obtained by AFP, Vietnam lobbied for ASEAN to express serious concern over "construction" in the sea, in reference to China's ramped up building of artificial islands in the disputed waters in recent years.

Hours before the ASEAN minister's statement, the US presented a draft United Nations resolution toughening sanctions on North Korea with a sweeping ban on exports of coal, iron, lead and seafood that could deprive Pyongyang of $1 billion in annual revenues.

"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.

"So as far as I know the consensus in Asean is at the very least the code of conduct that is to be negotiated still, that the negotiations that will happen in the next few months or years should produce a substantive and effective code of conduct", he said in a press briefing.

The document, titled "Agenda Item 5: Consultations on the Code of Conduct", stated that "The Philippines proposed to amend Clause 2 (a) (iii) (General Provisions, Objectives) of the draft framework to read: 'To ensure maritime security and safety and freedom of navigation and overflight, worldwide commerce and other peaceful uses'".

Regarding what kind of COC will be produced, Wang said that is up to the discussion by the 11 parties - China and the ASEAN member countries.

"Sanctions are needed, but by no means the ultimate goal", Wang, who was in Manila for the talks with the ASEAN ministers, said in a statement posted on the Chinese foreign ministry's website.

The situation in the South China Sea should also be "generally stable", he said.

Still, the key concern is over China, the North's economic lifeline and biggest trading partner.

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