Asean, China Adopt Framework for Crafting Code on South China Sea

Myanmar' Foreign Minister U Kyaw Tin (L) greets Cambodia's Secretary of State Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation during the Mekong-Ganga Ministerial meeting of the 50th Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila, Philippines August 7, 2017.

Fifteen years ago ASEAN foreign ministers signed an even more strongly worded document committing the countries to begin negotiations with Beijing over China's claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, through which passes one third of global shipping, including much of Australia's.

China had always been perceived as delaying negotiations with ASEAN so it can undertake and complete construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea without being restricted by any maritime code.

Criticising ongoing "land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarisation of disputed features" in the disputed sea, the trio said any code of conduct must be "legally binding, meaningful and effective", a demand noticeably absent from the Asean statement. Beijing frequently accuses the USA of meddling in what it says is an Asian dispute that should be resolved only by the countries involved.

Wang's mention of the vague conditions can allow China to delay or halt the planned talks for any reason.

The regional grouping decides by consensus, and previous year Cambodia and Laos, who receive massive aid from China, blocked any mention of the arbitration ruling in the final text.

China has in recent years expanded its presence in the sea by building the artificial islands, which are capable of holding military bases.

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After their own day of meetings on Saturday, ASEAN foreign ministers released a joint statement expressing "grave concerns" over the North's first two intercontinental ballistic missile tests that were conducted last month.

China on Sunday scored a diplomatic coup in its campaign to weaken regional resistance against its sweeping claims to the South China Sea when South-east Asian nations issued a diluted statement on the dispute and agreed to Beijing's terms on talks. As in past criticisms, they did not cite China by name.

The Philippines scored a major legal victory a year ago, when an global tribunal in the Hague threw out most of China's territorial claims, but since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte, Manila has become less confrontational with Beijing.

The sailor from USS Stethem was reported missing while the ship was conducting routine operations in the South China Sea.

The operation was aimed at affirming the right to passage and challenging what the USA considers China's excessive territorial claims in the area.

Manila had initiated the case under former president Benigno Aquino.

The foreign ministers from other countries, including Japan, the United States, China and the two Koreas, will join the meeting later to complete the attendance by all 27 member countries.

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