China is willing to work with Southeast Asian countries for long-term peace and stability in the South China Sea, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said on Sunday during the 22nd China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bangkok.
His comments come amid flaring tensions between Vietnam and Beijing over a dispute triggered by a Chinese oil survey vessel that remained within waters claimed by China in the South China Sea for more than three months.
"We stand ready to work with ASEAN countries building on the existing foundation and basis to strive for new progress in the code of conduct, in line with the three-year time frame to maintain and uphold long-term peace in the South China Sea," Li said in his statement.
The code of the conduct proposed by China has paved the way for negotiations that started in 2002 between China and ASEAN countries. Negotiations for its completion are expected in 2021.
In support of the region's stability, the code of conduct was discussed at the meeting with Li affirming Beijing's commitment to maintaining “mutual political trust” with the ASEAN bloc.
The meetings on Sunday also touched on other challenges, including climate change with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urging the leaders to wean themselves from reliance on coal-fired power plants given the region’s vulnerability to extreme weather disasters and rising sea levels.
"In response to the climate change issue, China, as a developing country, will fulfill its international responsibilities and obligations," Li said.
- South China Sea disputes
Beijing claims roughly 90% of the total area defined by a map with an ambiguous "dash-line" -- a U-shaped demarcation line -- published in 1947.
The Paracel Islands, along with the Spratly group to the south, are located within China’s so-called nine or ten "dash-line".
As the disputes over the South China Sea are escalating day by day, the global community took several steps to reach a settlement. The UN concluded a law in 1982, which was set to establish a legal framework to balance the economic and security interest of coastal states.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force in 1994, enshrines a 200-nautical mile area to extend sole exploitation rights to coastal nations over marine resources and also guarantees wide-ranging passage rights for naval vessels and military aircraft.
However, the area officially called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), was never intended to serve as a security zone.
Despite being signed and ratified by all concerned countries in the region, the interpretation of UNCLOS in the South China Sea is still fiercely disputed.
Beijing's armed bases on artificial islands built in disputed waters cause tension between the U.S. and the countries in the region.
The ASEAN bloc, which was founded for the purpose of regional development and protection of political stability, has a total of 10 members, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, as well as Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
Reporting by Fuat Kabakcı in Beijing
Additional contributing and writing by Gokce Kucuk