Beijing ‘ready to work’ with Asean on rules for South China Sea, Latest World News - The New Paper

Beijing ‘ready to work’ with Asean on rules for South China Sea

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BANGKOK: Beijing said yesterday it is "ready to work" with Southeast Asian nations on a code of conduct in the flashpoint South China Sea, where it is accused of bullying fellow claimants.

China claims most of the resource-rich waterway, a major global shipping route that has long been a source of tension in the region.

For years, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has been locked in talks for a code of conduct for the sea, where China is accused of deploying warships, arming outposts and ramming fishing vessels. The agreement, set to be finished in 2021, will lay out conduct guidelines along with conflict resolution parameters.

Yesterday, China's Premier Li Keqiang said the first reading of the document - a chance for all members to comment on the draft terms - was "a very important landmark".

"We stand ready to work with Asean countries building on the existing foundation and the basis to strive for new progress" on the guidelines, he said.

He added that China wanted to "maintain and uphold long-term peace and stability in the South China Sea".

The Philippines - which has sparred with China in the sea - said yesterday that Beijing is committed to the code, despite its broad claims to the waterway.

"It recognises the fact that if it doesn't agree to a code of conduct then there will be turmoil in the region," presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

Tensions in the waterway have flared in recent weeks between China and Vietnam, one of Beijing's most vocal critics on the issue.

Hanoi hit back at China after it sent a survey ship into waters inside its Exclusive Economic Zone and around islands claimed by both Hanoi and Beijing. The ship left after several weeks in the area.

Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims with China in the sea.

The US has accused China of bullying behaviour, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that America has been too easy on China.

"We hesitated and did far less than we should have," he said, referring to China's disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines. - AFP