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.