Talks to start on South China Sea code of conduct

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Leaders of all 10 Asean nations yesterday agreed to start negotiations with China on a code of conduct for managing tensions in the South China Sea.

The situation in the disputed waters is calmer now, but the current progress cannot be taken for granted, they said in a common statement at the Asean-China Summit.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered the statement, as Singapore is now the country coordinating Asean-China dialogue relations.

Speaking before him, Chinese premier Li Keqiang said China "always sees Asean a priority in our neighbourhood diplomacy".

Mr Lee said: "I trust that we will continue this positive momentum and work towards a substantive and effective code of conduct. I look forward to its early conclusion."

Cooperation is important to maintain peace, stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he noted.

"It is in our collective interest to avoid miscalculations that could lead to escalation of tensions," he said.

Asean therefore remains committed to fully and effectively implementing the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety. Both sides also adopted a declaration on a decade of coastal and marine environmental protection in the South China Sea yesterday.

Said Mr Lee: "We should continue to build confidence and trust through practical maritime cooperation."

The South China Sea issue cuts to the heart of Asean-China relations, he noted, as he looked ahead to Asean working with China next year, when Singapore will take over the group's rotating chairmanship.

"By managing the South China Sea issue well, we can keep Asean-China relations on the current positive trajectory," he added.

Asean and China also agreed to work together to improve infrastructure connectivity, boost tourism and fight corruption. China was Asean's largest trading partner last year.

aseanLee Hsien LoongChina