China will not 'shy away' from South China Sea row: Foreign Minister

BEIJING (AFP) - Beijing will "not shy away from problems" in disputed Asian waters, its foreign minister said on Thursday at a meeting between China and Southeast Asian countries.

China claims nearly all the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of neighbouring countries, several of them members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), and has been increasingly assertive in promoting its claims.

The sea is strategically important, with several vital shipping routes passing through it, and is believed to be rich in resources.

At a meeting with Asean foreign ministers in the Chinese capital, Mr Wang Yi said: "We did not shy away from problems that exist.

"Currently the South China Sea situation is stable and when we look at other places in world, we should dearly cherish it."

Asean has been trying for more than a decade to secure agreement from China on a legally binding code of conduct.

China has refused to upgrade a 2002 "declaration of conduct" into a legally binding code, wary of giving any concessions that may weaken its claim and preferring instead to negotiate individually with each country.

Further meetings on the issue are planned for next month and in December.

Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said Asean looked forward to "constructive and substantive" discussions with China.

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