(Repeats to wider audience)
By Michael Martina
NUSA DUA, Indonesia, July 20 China and Southeast
Asian countries agreed on Wednesday to a preliminary set of
guidelines in the South China Sea dispute, the Chinese side
said, a rare sign of cooperation in a row that has plagued
relations in the region for years.
But a broader accord on which country owns what in waters
believed to be rich in gas and oil remains as far off as ever.
China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan
all claim territory in the South China Sea. China's claim is the
"We have reached agreement at the senior officials' meeting
of ASEAN countries and China some minutes ago, on the guidelines
of implementation on the DOC (Declaration of Conduct of Parties
in the South China Sea)," China's assistant foreign minister,
Liu Zhenmin, said.
"This is an important milestone document for cooperation
among China and ASEAN countries," Liu told reporters on the
sidelines of a forum between ASEAN foreign ministers and other
regional powers on the Indonesian island of Bali this week.
The guidelines are an initial set of steps towards the more
conclusive declaration, which China and the 10-member
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been in
deadlock over since 2002.
According to Indonesian officials, earlier drafts created
context for future rules on marine environmental protection,
scientific research, safety of navigation and communication,
search and rescue and combating transnational crime, but did not
The agreed upon draft has not yet been released, and it is
unclear if it contains wording about any of those issues.
Liu said the settlement on the guidelines, which the
countries had wrangled over for six years, would be submitted to
foreign ministers for final approval on Thursday.
In recent months China has been squaring off with the
Philippines and Vietnam on what each says are intrusions into
the other's territorial waters.
The South China Sea dispute was expected to take centre stage
at the ASEAN meetings this week, but China has long opposed what
it calls other countries inserting themselves in bilateral
With U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton due in Bali
later this week, China's official Communist Party newspaper, the
People's Daily, reiterated Beijing's disapproval of such
"This doesn't mean China is in the wrong, and certainly
doesn't mean China is afraid of anything. We maintain this
position simply to prevent the issue from expanding or becoming
more complicated," the newspaper said.
China has previously sharply criticised the United States
for holding military drills in the contested waters.
(Additional reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Nick