China / Government

China to strengthen ties with ASEAN

By Zhao Shengnan, Wu Jiao and Qin Zhongwei (China Daily) Updated: 2012-07-12 02:43

China will strengthen communication and cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with strategic and long-term benefits to all parties, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said on Wednesday.

China and ASEAN share common interests and have a responsibility to safeguard regional peace and stability, Yang told the China and ASEAN ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Yang proposed to promote bilateral cooperation in the fields of trade, transportation, maritime issues and culture and said China will adjust the focus of its relationship with ASEAN based on the organization's developing needs.

ASEAN countries welcomed Yang's proposals and expressed a willingness to enhance bilateral cooperation with China.

Yang's remarks came amid recent tensions in the South China Sea over which China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have competing territorial claims. The issue may be covered during the 45th ASEAN regional talks from Monday to Friday in Cambodia. The talks bring together the 10 ASEAN members with China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United States and others.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin on Wednesday urged related parties to fully implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and said a substantial discussion about the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea should be started when the relationship has matured.

During a series of ASEAN foreign ministers' meetings, Manila has led a push for ASEAN to unite to persuade China to accept the COC.

China said it is willing to discuss the COC, but stressed it is not designed to solve disputes in the South China Sea, but to promote mutual trust and cooperation between parties. Beijing insists on negotiating with its neighbors bilaterally.

Analysts said bringing the maritime disputes between China and some ASEAN countries to the Phnom Penh meetings could distract from the meetings' primary purpose and the development of the ASEAN community.

"The meetings are not a proper platform for the South China Sea issue as it is not between China and ASEAN, but an issue with particular countries of the bloc," said Luo Yongkun, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

Luo said too much emphasis on the issue will distract the focus of the meetings, namely the development of the economy and communities. He said it will be difficult for these countries to reach an agreement about the COC's content, and the differences may undermine the solidarity of ASEAN.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said on Monday his country has always believed the disputes should be resolved between the parties concerned, based on mechanisms provided under international law including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

China's former ambassador to ASEAN Tong Xiaoling said the COC should aim to creat a rules-based framework for managing the conduct of parties in the South China Sea and strengthen ASEAN's efforts to build mutual trust to maintain peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

The South China Sea issue has lasted nearly three decades, during which the cooperation between China and ASEAN members has built positive momentum, Tong said.

China, ASEAN's biggest trading partner, has initiated cooperation with the Southeast Asian nations under the DOC framework.

Zhang Jianmin, spokesman for the Chinese delegation to the ASEAN foreign minister meetings, said China has established the China-ASEAN maritime cooperation fund and is ready to work with ASEAN in marine scientific research and environmental protection, navigation safety, search and rescue efforts and fighting transnational crime.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to join her ASEAN counterparts at the forum on Wednesday as part of an Asian tour which will also take her to Vietnam and Laos.

The Christian Science Monitor said on Tuesday that Clinton's Asia visit focused on boosting economic ties contrasts sharply with her last visit in 2010. That visit was seen as the US putting China on notice that they will be around to exert its influence in the South China Sea.

The report also said the region's leaders have largely played down confrontations with China in favor of cooperation, and wants the US to know that they support cooperation between the two superpowers.

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