China and South-East Asian countries may start negotiations on a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea this year if there is "no major disruption" from outside parties, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday.
Wang said Beijing and the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) approved a framework for the code of conduct, which would pave the way for the negotiations.
“Today, the 11 foreign ministers agreed upon and adopted the code of conduct framework, and we announced that sometime within the year, we will start the negotiations on the text of the code of conduct,” he said after meeting with his counterparts from the regional bloc.
But Wang said there were “preconditions” to the start of the negotiations, including no interference from non-claimant countries.
“When the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and if there is no major disruption from outside parties, with that as the precondition, then we will consider during the November leaders’ meeting, we will jointly announce the start of the code of conduct consultation,” he said.
Robespierre Bolivar, spokesman for the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs, said ASEAN and China officials will convene at the end of August to prepare for the negotiations based on the framework.
“Parallel to this, ASEAN and China will continue to cooperate on such practical maritime cooperation efforts including management and prevention of conflicts among parties through confidence-building measures, as well as to prevent miscalculations on the ground,” he said.
"The adoption of framework at this [ministerial meeting] is a symbol of the commitment between ASEAN and China to really push forward [an] effective and substantive code of conduct,” he added.
According to the framework, the code of conduct "is not an instrument to settle territorial disputes or maritime delimitation issues."
Instead, the code would promote "mutual trust, cooperation and confidence, prevent incidents, manage incidents should they occur and create a favourable environment for the peaceful resolution of disputes."
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a key shipping lane believed to be rich in marine and mineral resources.
Other claimants are ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.
The other ASEAN members are Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Since 2012, China has stepped up island reclamations and construction in the disputed territories in the South China Sea, including building structures that appear to have military capabilities.
In a joint statement issued Sunday, ASEAN foreign ministers expressed concern over “land reclamations and activities” in the South China Sea that have “eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”
“We emphasized the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states ... that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea,” they added.
On Monday, the regional bloc is to meet with dialogue partners including the United States, Japan, China and Russia in Asia’s largest security forum, where concerns about mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula are expected to top the agenda.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono were also expected to meet separately Monday to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
The three ministers would discuss their assessment and responses to North Korea’s recent missile tests, the South Korea’s foreign ministry said.
ASEAN foreign ministers on Saturday called on North Korea to "exercise self-restraint" and stop its missile tests that threaten regional stability.
They urged Pyongyang to "positively contribute" to realizing the forum's vision of maintaining Asia and the Pacific "as a region of lasting peace, stability, friendship and prosperity."
On July 28, North Korea test-fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile and said that all the US mainland was now within its range. Pyongyang first undertook its first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4.