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 building up military installations and 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 for the sea 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 told reporters in Bangkok on the sidelines of Asean.