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China, ASEAN to ignore 'distractions'

Updated: 2013-09-16 08:03
By Zhang Yunbi in Suzhou, Jiangsu (China Daily)

China, ASEAN to ignore 'distractions'

Liu Zhenmin (fourth left), Chinese vice-foreign minister, and Sihasak Phuangketkeow (right), permanent secretary of Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, open an exhibition of photographs of cooperative maritime search and rescue missions before the Senior Officials Meeting of China and the ASEAN countries on Sunday in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. Zhang Yunbi / China Daily

Senior diplomats from China and Southeast Asian countries promised to "eliminate distractions" of territorial issues when they convened to discuss the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea on Sunday.

This is the first time that China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have had official consultations about the code under the framework of the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea, a landmark document signed in 2002.

Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and Thailand's permanent secretary of its Foreign Affairs Ministry, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, co-chaired the 6th Senior Officials Meeting, in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, on the implementation of the declaration.

Liu and Sihasak expressed hope that the meeting would send a positive signal and create an atmosphere conducive to the success of the upcoming China-ASEAN leaders' meeting in Brunei in October.

The meeting on Sunday authorized the Joint Working Group on the implementation of the declaration to make consultations related to the code in the future.

The working group convened in Suzhou on Saturday for its ninth meeting.

"All the parties present agreed to take steps for establishing the Eminent Persons and Experts Group," Liu said after the meeting.

Wu Shicun, head of the National Institute of South China Sea Studies, said the talks about the code show China's proactive attitude on the South China Sea issue, and the meeting got off to "a good start".

Everyone agreed to "strengthen communication, enhance mutual trust, build consensus, eliminate distractions" and make unremitting efforts to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation, Liu said.

In recent years, the Philippines and Vietnam have tried to put the South China Sea on the agenda of a series of ASEAN meetings to attract global attention to their claims over some islets.

Some regional players are overblowing the function of the Code of Conduct and dismissing the Declaration of Conduct as "useless", attempting to drag the region into chaos, Wu said.

Signed in 2002, the conduct code is the first political document between China and ASEAN countries on the South China Sea issue, and it is widely viewed as a "stabilizer" of the South China Sea situation.

Sihasak, the Thai Foreign Ministry permanent secretary, said the adoption of the DOC more than 10 years ago was a "major accomplishment in many respects".

"Most importantly, we are not starting from square one. We need to build upon matters on which we have already achieved consensus. We need to expand areas of convergence and narrow areas of divergence," Sihasak said.

Liu, the vice-foreign minister, said that continuing full implementation of the DOC "serves the interests of all parties" and is conducive to the development of the China-ASEAN strategic partnership, which was established in 2003.

On Aug 29, the Special China-ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting was held in Beijing to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the partnership.

China and the Southeast Asian nations are now "entering the next stage", but "there have been some stumbling blocks along the way", Sihasak said.

Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said some countries have attempted to portray their bilateral disputes with China as problems that affect all ASEAN members.

Hyping the South China Sea issue has "increasingly become a distraction", and is not helpful to ASEAN solidarity, Ruan said.

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