Draft of framework to handle S. China Sea disputes ready

A first draft of the framework for a legally binding Code of Conduct (COC) to manage disputes in the South China Sea has been completed, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has revealed.

China and Asean have made "visible progress" in consultation on the COC, he said, adding that both sides "are all happy" about the draft produced at the end of last month.

The situation in the South China Sea has "calmed down visibly", he noted, but warned against any fresh meddling that disrupts the peace in the region.

"China will never allow the hard- won peace and stability to be disrupted once again," he said.

He was replying to a question on the South China Sea from a Phoenix TV reporter, who also noted non-regional countries have not stopped meddling in the waters and that the United States is increasing its military deployment in the region.

Mr Wang was speaking at a press conference held on the sidelines of the ongoing national parliamentary session yesterday.

China has overlapping territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea with four Asean countries - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei - as well as Taiwan.

Tensions have risen in recent years over China's increasing assertiveness over its claims to nearly all the waters, and its building of artificial islands on reefs it occupies and placing of military facilities on them. The US has conducted freedom of navigation operations close to China-claimed areas to challenge what it sees as Beijing's excessive claims.

Matters came to a head in July last year when an international tribunal ruled against Beijing's claims in the sea in a case brought by Manila.

China rejected the ruling, but at an Asean summit later that month, agreed to speed up COC negotiations and complete the framework for the code by the first half of this year. China had before then dragged its feet over the COC negotiations.

Mr Wang yesterday also noted that the relationship between China and the Philippines has improved since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last year and "appropriately handled" the South China Sea issue as well as sought to better Manila's ties with Beijing.

"The turnaround in the China- Philippines relations has scattered the dark clouds over China-Asean relations," he said.

Goh Sui Noi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'Draft of framework to handle S. China Sea disputes ready'. Print Edition | Subscribe