MANILA • Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan is "reasonably confident" a framework on a code of conduct on the South China Sea will be completed by the middle of the year.
He told Singapore media after Asean foreign ministers met yesterday: "There is a strong sense of common will on the part of all parties to this to get it done, and it's important for building confidence and reducing the temperature in the South China Sea."
Earlier this year, Asean foreign ministers set a June deadline for the framework on the code of conduct (COC). It will set the parameters for parties to negotiate a legally-binding code on behaviour in disputed waters.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had said on Thursday that he would not bring up Beijing's island-building in contested areas of the South China Sea and the ruling of an international tribunal against China, when Asean leaders meet today.
He said China cannot be pressured, adding that he would try to make headway via dialogue.
China claims territories in the South China Sea that are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
On reports that Asean may take a softer tone, Dr Balakrishnan said: "I wouldn't want to characterise this as a softer or harder tone. But things are moving in a positive direction."
He said a framework will pave the way for talks on a legally binding code of conduct and is an important step in ensuring "greater confidence and a sense of cooperation between China on one hand, and the claimant states in Asean and the rest of us who are not claimant states as well".
He added: "It will not be easy.''