China calls for speedier talks on South China Sea conduct code

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi wait for a bilateral meeting at the Putra World Trade Center August 5, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
PHOTO: Reuters

China called upon countries in the South China Sea region on Wednesday to speed up consultations over the expected code of conduct in the sea and to discuss preventive measures to control maritime risks.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the remarks during the annual China-ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur. He also called upon the region's outsiders "not to take actions that may lead to tension and complicate the regional situation".

Beijing and Washington also assured each other on Wednesday of no confrontations in the Asia-Pacific region after Washington's recent high-profile comments and actions related to the South China Sea led to criticism from Beijing.

All the countries were urged to "exercise and champion the freedom of navigation and aviation based on international law", Wang told the 10+1 meeting.

The 10 Southeast Asian nations responded positively to Wang's proposal at the meeting and said they are ready to strengthen consultations over the code of conduct, according to a release by the Foreign Ministry.

A China-ASEAN working group was held on July 29 to boost efforts in formulating the code of conduct.

Wang told a news conference on Tuesday that the 10 countries have agreed in principle to discuss and formulate the preventive measures for controlling maritime risks before the code of conduct is finally approved.

Pang Zhongying, dean of the School of International Studies at Guangzhou-based Sun Yat-sen University, said China's latest proposal shows growing "pragmatism and flexibility" in tackling the South China Sea issue.

The detailed proposal is "sending the signal that China is not the obstacle, it is playing by the rules and it hopes that other countries will follow the rules also", Pang said.

On Wednesday, Wang also met with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of a series of meetings regarding co-operation in East Asia, and they touched upon the situation in the South China Sea.

Wang underscored that "countries outside the region should respect the efforts of China and the ASEAN countries".

Kerry said the US cares about the situation in the South China Sea but does not get involved in specific disputes. Washington supports Beijing's plans to resolve South China Sea disputes through peaceful negotiations with the relevant countries, he said.

Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said that the recent inflammatory actions and comments by US senior defence officials have shown that Washington is boosting militarization in the region.

Wang said China "has no intention of shutting the US out of Asia" and is willing to "achieve virtuous interactions with the US in the region", Wang said.

Kerry said Washington never sought, and does not seek, confrontation with China in the Asia-Pacific region and is willing to establish strategic mutual trust with China.