| NUSA DUA, Indonesia, July 21
NUSA DUA, Indonesia, July 21 China and Southeast
Asian nations officially approved guidelines on conduct in the
South China Sea on Thursday, a small sign of progress in the
dispute and a potential boost for Beijing in defusing tensions
before the United States joins the meetings.
The one-page document is intended to drive the process of
making the 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the
contested South China Sea more concrete.
Officials from China and the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) agreed on the guidelines on Wednesday, ending
almost a decade of deadlock. China's Foreign Minister Yang
Jiechi and the ASEAN counterparts officially signed off on
"This afternoon ... the ministers of China and ASEAN
countries formally endorsed the guidelines and also started
implementation -- fully and comprehensively -- of the DOC,"
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said.
Its acceptance was seen as a small but uncommon sign of
cooperation on the dispute in the South China Sea, where China,
Taiwan, and four ASEAN members -- the Philippines, Malaysia,
Brunei and Vietnam -- all claim territory.
But Liu tried to steer dialogue away from the sensitive sea
dispute and toward China-ASEAN trade cooperation, reiterating
pledges to boost bilateral trade to $500 billion by 2015.
"We are looking to the future. We want to be good friends,
good partners and good neighbours with ASEAN countries," he told
reporters after a closed-door China-ASEAN meeting.
China's acquiescence on the guidelines may be a means of
mollifying ASEAN enough to take the topic off the table before
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's scheduled arrival
later on Thursday for the ASEAN Regional Forum, the biggest
security conference in Asia.
But that may be unlikely as the Philippines, one of the
claimants, remains unconvinced that the guidelines would be
sufficient to end tensions in the area.
China has accused the U.S. of stoking tensions in the region
by holding naval drills in the contested waters.
"Perhaps China agreed to it as a way of defusing the
situation," said Ian Storey, a maritime security expert at the
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, who called
the guidelines "boilerplate" and unlikely to have much impact.
"It would make sense for China to maximise these
opportunities since its image has been tarnished recently with
its more muscular diplomacy," Storey said, noting that China
wants to be seen as a positive player on the South China Sea and
on long-stalled six-party talks on the Korean peninsula nuclear
China has urged the resumption of those talks, and ASEAN
officials said Japan and South Korea also supported the
"They would like to see all parties exercising full effort
in order to move the process, particularly the six-party talks,
forward," ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan told reporters.
All of the participants in the Korea talks -- North Korea,
South Korea, Japan, China, the United States and Russia -- will
be at the forum on Bali island.
U.S. officials, however, have said Washington is wary of
resuming the talks without concrete evidence that Pyongyang is
willing to change its bellicose behaviour.
The U.S. also issued a statement on Thursday saying it
"categorically denies" rumours that Clinton would meet with
North Korea's foreign minister at the summit.
(Additional reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Raju
Gopalakrishnan and Daniel Magnowski)