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China, ASEAN agree on draft framework for S China Sea code of

AFP  |  Beijing 

and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took a step towards easing tensions in the South Sea, state media reported today, agreeing to a framework for a "code of conduct" to prevent incidents in the disputed waters. The competing claims to the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast and gas deposits, have for decades made it one of Asia's potential military flashpoints. The issue has come to a head in recent years as has pursued a strategy of building artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities in the region, provoking strong reactions from other claimants as well as the US, which argues Beijing's actions threaten freedom of navigation and overflight through the strategically vital waters. The framework, which was agreed upon during a meeting of senior officials from and in the country's southwestern province of Guizhou, sets the parameters for a final, more detailed agreement yet to come. A draft of the text obtained by AFP describes the envisioned agreement as "a set of norms to guide the conduct of parties and promote maritime cooperation in the South Sea," adding that it is "not an instrument to settle territorial disputes." Negotiations for an actual code have already taken 15 years. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and adopted a non-binding "declaration of conduct" in 2002 to discourage hostile acts.

All sides agreed not to use threats or force to assert claims. But refused to turn it into a legally binding "code of conduct", using the intervening time to build its artificial islands. claims nearly all of the South Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several members including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The dispute has caused deep divisions within ASEAN, which normally seeks to operate on a consensus basis. Under former President Benigno Aquino, the Philippines had adopted a tough stance on China's claims, but the country's anger at the world's second largest economy has become a warm embrace following the election last year of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has declined to push on territorial issues in hopes of being rewarded with investment and aid. Chinese and Philippines officials will meet in on Friday for the first round of bilateral talks on their piece of the dispute. Today, Duterte said he would be open to exploring the South Sea's natural resources with rival claimants and Vietnam.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, May 18 2017. 22:42 IST