Beijing tells Asean to be realistic in hopes for South China Sea code of conduct

All parties with territorial disputes over the South China Sea should have “realistic expectations” and take “a gradual approach” to a proposed code of conduct aimed at defusing maritime tensions in the region, China’s foreign minister said in Hanoi yesterday.

Wang Yi , who wraps up a six-day visit to four South East Asian countries today, said Beijing was open to dialogue on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (CoC), but warned that patience would be needed.

“Some countries are looking for a quick fix [to the disputes] and are hoping to thrash out a code in a day; this approach is neither realistic nor serious,” Xinhua quoted Wang as saying yesterday.

The CoC involved multiple national interests and as such required a “delicate and complex” negotiating process, Wang added.

Analysts say Wang was referring to the Philippines’s recent bid to take the maritime row to the United Nations in hope of solving it promptly.

One analyst believed Beijing did not want Manila to go to the UN. “It would attract too much attention. China would prefer to bind South China Sea claimants into a bureaucratic process that it can control, exploiting Asean disunity,” said Alex Neill, a Shangri-la dialogue senior fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

Previous efforts to discuss the CoC failed because of “disturbances” from irrelevant parties, Wang said, in a thinly veiled message to the US, a long-term ally with the Philippines.

“Instead of making disturbances, parties should make efforts that are conducive to the process so as to create the necessary conditions and atmosphere,” Wang said.

Wang stressed that any progress on the new framework would be dependent on countries following a confidence-building “declaration of conduct” agreed upon in 2002, which Beijing accuses Manila of violating.

The Philippines and Vietnam have led criticism of what they consider increasingly assertive claims by China in the South China Sea.

Top diplomats from both countries agreed last week in Manila to work closely to deal with their territorial disputes with Beijing. Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh also said that Hanoi supported Manila’s move to take the issue of South China Sea disputes to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

“Wang is trying to head off any unity among Asean [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] members against China ahead of the next Asean summit [in October],” Neill said.

While China has been eager to smooth tensions with Vietnam, it has shunned Manila. In May, Wang visited Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei in his first official visits since the former ambassador to Japan was appointed foreign minister. The just-concluded trip covers Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Laos. Last month, Beijing blasted Manila for turning to the UN to seek arbitration over their maritime disputes, and accused the country of provoking tensions.

“I could see why Wang would’ve wanted to refer to Manila [in his comments],” said Kerry Brown, professor of political science at the University of Sydney.

“China would have lots of reasons to utterly resist the UN being dragged in, as they would argue this is an internal issue, and for the Philippines to try to use this as leverage would seem to them to be theatrical posturing,”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as ‘Be realistic’, Beijing tells Asean

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