China said yesterday it was willing to discuss a code of conduct with Southeast Asian nations over the disputed South China Sea, but insisted any potential pact must not be used to resolve the rival claims.
“When conditions are ripe, China would like to discuss with ASEAN countries the formulation of the COC [code of conduct],” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Liu Weimin (劉為民) told journalists. “But I want to stress that the COC is not aimed at resolving disputes, but aimed at building mutual trust and deepening cooperation.”
Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Fu Ying (傅瑩) held unofficial talks in Cambodia on Sunday with senior officials from ASEAN on a potential code of conduct of the South China Sea, Liu said.
Efforts to ease tensions in the South China Sea are expected to dominate this week’s meeting of the Asian Regional Forum in Phnom Penh.
The forum groups the 10 ASEAN nations with China, Japan, South Korea, the US, -Australia and others.
The Philippines is leading a push for ASEAN to unite to persuade China to accept a code of conduct in the sea, where tensions have flared recently with both Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Beijing of aggressive behavior.
China has preferred an approach that would deal with the claimants individually.
China claims essentially all of the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. Taiwan and ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims in the waters.
China has long insisted it will not give up any of its claims to the sea, even those areas approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian nations.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged “progress” on the code of conduct.