More Asean nations agree to speed up negotiations on South China Sea: Chinese foreign minister

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi added that countries in the region should develop and honour a code of conduct themselves. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Friday (March 8) that an increasing number of Asean nations have agreed with China's proposal to speed up negotiations for a pact on the South China Sea.

He again warned other nations against interfering in the process.

"We welcome well-intentioned advice but do not accept political smears or interference. Countries in the region should grasp in our own hands the key to peace and stability in the South China Sea,"said Mr Wang.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of legislative meetings in Beijing, Mr Wang said countries in the region should develop and honour a code of conduct (COC) themselves.

Four Asean countries - Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei - and Taiwan have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea.

Beijing has been accused of embarking on a military build-up in the region, constructing military outposts on islands and reefs which it says are necessary for self-defence.

The United States often sends warships into the disputed waterway on what it calls "freedom of navigation operations".

Negotiations on the COC, which will set out norms of behaviour in the contested waters, began in March last year, following the adoption in 2017 of a framework for the COC. The latest round of negotiations were due to begin late last month.

Last November, when he was in Singapore for the Asean Summit, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed concluding negotiations on the COC by 2021.

On Friday, Mr Wang said this showed China's "seriousness and commitment" on reaching a deal.

Asked about the transparency of the discussions on Friday, Mr Wang said updates on the talks would be provided when possible.

"China and Asean members will stay focused, shield the negotiations from interference and try to speed it up on the basis of consensus," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.