China sets con­di­tions for start of sea talks


MANILA | China’s top diplo­mat said Sun­day that talks for a nonag­gres­sion pact aimed at pre­vent­ing clashes from erupt­ing in the dis­puted South China Sea may start this year if “out­side par­ties” don’t cause a ma­jor dis­rup­tion.

Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi said the start of talks for a “code of con­duct” in the dis­puted wa­ters may be an­nounced by the heads of state of China and the 10-mem­ber As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) at their an­nual sum­mit in the Philip­pines in Novem­ber if Bei­jing’s con­di­tions are met.

Mr. Wang told a news con­fer­ence in Manila that those con­di­tions in­clude non-in­ter­fer­ence by “out­side par­ties,” ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to the United States, which Bei­jing fre­quently has ac­cused of med­dling in what it says is an Asian dis­pute that should be re­solved only by the coun­tries in­volved.

China’s ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the strate­gic and po­ten­tially oil- and gas-rich wa­ter­way with five other gov­ern­ments in­ten­si­fied after it built islands in dis­puted wa­ters and re­port­edly started to in­stall a mis­sile de­fense sys­tem on them, alarm­ing ri­val claimant states, the U.S. and other West­ern gov­ern­ments.

“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 of­fi­cial start of the code of con­duct con­sul­ta­tion,” Mr. Wang said.

The sit­u­a­tion in the South China Sea should also be “gen­er­ally sta­ble,” he said.

“China and ASEAN have the abil­ity to work to­gether to main­tain re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity and we will work out re­gional rules that we mu­tu­ally agreed upon so as to open up a bright fu­ture for our fu­ture re­la­tions,” he said.

A Philip­pine gov­ern­ment spokesman, Robe­spierre Bo­li­var, also an­nounced that ASEAN and Chi­nese min­is­ters have ap­proved a frame­work for the code and agreed on steps to start ne­go­ti­a­tions on the mar­itime ac­cord. He did not men­tion any pre­con­di­tions.

Su­san Thorn­ton, act­ing as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for East Asian and Pa­cific af­fairs, said coun­tries locked in the sea dis­putes should halt provoca­tive moves to fos­ter a diplo­matic res­o­lu­tion.

“We think all of the coun­tries in the re­gion should agree that while they have this diplo­matic process go­ing on that they would stop im­prov­ing or ex­pand­ing or mil­i­ta­riz­ing any of their out­posts,” Ms. Thorn­ton said.

China had long been per­ceived as de­lay­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with ASEAN for the mar­itime code to al­low it to launch and com­plete its land recla­ma­tions in the South China Sea with­out any such reg­u­la­tory re­stric­tions. Mr. Wang’s men­tion of the vague con­di­tions can al­low China to de­lay or halt the planned talks for any rea­son.

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