BEIJING (Reuters) - China is in no rush to sign a proposed agreement on maritime rules with Southeast Asia governing behavior in the disputed South China Sea, and countries should not have unrealistic expectations, the Chinese foreign minister said on Monday.
After years of resisting efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to start talks on the proposed Code of Conduct, China said it would host talks between senior officials in September.
Washington has not taken sides, but Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated in Brunei last month the U.S. strategic interest in freedom of navigation through the busy sea and desire to see a Code of Conduct signed quickly.
Speaking in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said a lot more work on the Code of Conduct (CoC) was needed.
“China believes that there should be no rush. Certain countries are hoping that the CoC can be agreed on overnight. These countries are having unrealistic expectations,” China’s official Xinhua news agency paraphrased Wang as saying.
“...The CoC concerns the interests of various parties and its formulation demands a heavy load of coordination work,” he added. “No individual countries should impose their will on others.”
Previous efforts to discuss the Code of Conduct had failed “due to disturbances from certain parties”, Wang said, without naming any countries.
“Instead of making disturbances, parties should make efforts that are conducive to the process so as to create the necessary conditions and atmosphere,” said Wang.
Friction over the South China Sea, one of the world’s most important waterways, has surged as China uses its growing naval might to more forcefully assert its vast claims over the oil- and gas-rich sea, raising fears of a military clash.
Four ASEAN nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have overlapping claims with China.
China and the Philippines accuse each other of violating the Declaration of Conduct, a non-binding confidence-building agreement on maritime conduct signed by China and ASEAN in 2002.
Such differences could be another obstacle to agreeing on a more comprehensive pact as China has stressed that countries must first show good faith by abiding by the DoC.
Critics say China is intent on cementing its claims over the sea through its superior and growing naval might, and has little interest in rushing to agree to a code of conduct.
Divisions among ASEAN over the maritime dispute burst into the open a year ago when a summit chaired by Chinese ally Cambodia failed to issue a closing communique for the first time in the group’s 45-year history.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie