China urges restraint on sea issues

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

CHINA - China's top diplomat on Friday called on countries involved in the South China Sea issue to avoid aggravating conflicts, as Manila continues to add fuel to its maritime dispute with Beijing.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi was addressing a high-level forum between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bangkok, Thailand.

At the moment, one of the top priorities in Beijing's ties with ASEAN is to "insist on properly handling differences" through peaceful ways, Wang said.

"We hope the relevant countries can also uphold this spirit, walk face to face with us and not take any further actions that might complicate matters. And especially not misjudge the situation and remake mistakes," Wang said at the forum, part of celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the strategic partnership between China and ASEAN.

Manila said on July 16 that the country's arbitral proceedings against China's territorial claims in the South China Sea were officially under way.

Beijing has long upheld diplomatic efforts to address the South China Sea issue bilaterally with the countries involved, and rejects international arbitration.

China and ASEAN agreed to hold senior officials' meetings in September to push forward a detailed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Wang warned that territorial disputes between China and "some ASEAN nations" might overshadow Beijing's ties with the regional group.

Thailand's The Nation newspaper said in a commentary published on Monday that Wang's first major task after taking office was to meet senior ASEAN officials in Beijing in April, where he immediately linked the "Chinese Dream" to the "ASEAN Dream".

"The recent decision of ASEAN and China to begin official negotiations over the long delayed code of conduct is a good barometer of their mutual comfort level and trust."

The author wrote, "ASEAN's economic growth is linked to China's rapid economic rise", while "their combined regional strength has served as a driving force for the overall economic development and integration of East Asia".

Wang also suggested on Friday to update the China-ASEAN free trade area and promote their economic integration.

Trade between China and ASEAN reached $400 billion in 2012. China and ASEAN are each other's biggest trading partners. Chinese and ASEAN citizens also made 15 million visits to each other's territories in 2012.

Ruan Zongze, deputy head of the Institute of International Studies, who was at Friday's forum, said Wang noted in his speech that this year he has visited ASEAN soil three times and would do so at least twice more.

That clearly demonstrates the importance Beijing attaches to ASEAN, the minister said.

The weeklong Southeast Asia trip that started in Malaysia on Aug 1 will also take Wang to Laos and Vietnam.

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