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Thorny South China Sea issue may dominate ASEAN summit

Press Trust of India  |  Manila 

With China's controversial military buildup likely to be a major issue at the summit, Li Keqiang today clearly reiterated Beijing's long- held position that it wants to bilaterally resolve its disputes with its neighbours over the South Sea. In an article published in leading newspapers here, Li admitted that the bilateral relationship between and the had "encountered a setback" due to the South Sea issue but it was back on track due to appropriate handling of the issue by the two sides. The Chinese premier, who will be here for the and East summits, said will actively explore joint development of the South sea to make it a "sea of cooperation and friendship" for the benefit of the two countries. "will work with the to continue to properly handle the maritime issues through friendly bilateral consultation by giving full play to such mechanisms as the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South Sea," Li wrote. Ahead of the annual summit of the ASEAN, an influential grouping of 10 South East Asian countries, a number of diplomats said the thorny issue of China's aggressive military buildup in the South Sea may be one of the focus areas of the deliberations on Tuesday. claims sovereignty over all of South Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons.

However, several member countries including Vietnam, the and Brunei have counter claims. India has been supporting freedom of navigation and access to resources in the South Sea in accordance with principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The has been pushing for a legally binding code of conduct for all stakeholders in the South Sea but has opposed such a framework asserting it will resolve the dispute with respective countries under a bilateral mechanism. "The two sides returned to the track of appropriately handling the South Sea issue through dialogue and consultation, thus removing the stumbling block that has held back our bilateral relations for several years," Li said. The controversial issue was also understood to have figured in a meeting of officials from India, the US, Japan, and Australia under the proposed Quadrilateral coalition of the four countries. "The discussions focused on cooperation based on their converging vision and values for promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected region that they share with each other and with other partners," the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said. "They agreed that a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large," it said.

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

First Published: Sun, November 12 2017. 17:57 IST