MANILA - China and Southeast Asian countries have begun discussions to hammer out a stronger code of conduct aimed at preventing South China Sea territorial disputes from erupting into armed conflict, a senior Chinese diplomat said in Beijing on Thursday.
In a press briefing, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Liu Jianchao said a draft code of conduct is being negotiated by the parties at the working level, but did not give further details on its content.
"They have worked on some of the outlines of the document and I think that consultations are still going on," Liu said as he assured that China "is ready to work with the other parties concerned on this document."
Liu said the inclusion of sanctions in the draft against claimant states that will violate the code "is under the process of consultations."
He said China and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have not set a specific deadline for the negotiations.
In 2002, Southeast Asian nations Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand and China signed a landmark non-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea to reduce the tension among the claimants by maintaining status quo and temporarily putting ownership issues in the backburner.
The document also prohibits any activity that might escalate the situation in the area, and encourages activities that would build mutual trust, cooperation and mutual confidence among the claimants.
China has always maintained indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea territories.
"Anything that is conducive to such goal will be welcomed by the Chinese side," Liu said. "The most important thing for us is that every body should move forward in the spirit of cooperation."
Liu also said China wants to see its proposals on cooperation in the area "seriously considered" by the countries concerned.