China pledges to be Asean's 'good neighbor, friend'

AMID the simmering dispute over the South China Sea, China on Monday, November 13, pledged to be a "good neighbor and friend" to the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The commitment was made by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during the 20th Asean-China summit held at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

"China always sees Asean as a priority in our neighborhood diplomacy. We are committed to working with Asean, to be good neighbors, good friends, and good partners that always stand together, rain or shine," Li said in his keynote speech.

China, Taiwan and four member-states of Asean - Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam - have overlapping territorial claims over the South China Sea.

In a press conference, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Asean maintained its stance to pursue "peaceful" negotiations with China to resolve sea disputes.

Roque said the regional bloc was also optimistic that China would cooperate in coming up with a legally-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, which the Philippines prefer to call the West Philippine Sea.

"Asean reiterated that it would want a peaceful resolution to the West Philippine Sea issue, that they would want a code of conduct to be concluded at the latest," he said.

The framework for the code of conduct in the South China Sea was adopted by China and Southeast Asian foreign ministers in August to advance the 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.

The DOC of Parties in the South China Sea, a non-legally binding document signed on November 4, 2002 but has been mostly ignored by claimant states, seeks to exercise self-restraint and prevent militarization within the contested waters.

The code of conduct aims to resolve the overlapping territorial claims in the vast, potentially resource-rich region.

Asean member-states and China took a three-step process for the completion of an actual code of conduct -- adoption of the framework, discussion of modalities for the negotiation of code of conduct, and announcement of start of negotiation for actual, legally-binding document.

Read Southeast Asia nations to start talks with China on sea code

China, which has expansive claims to the South China Sea, earlier said the third step would depend on the stability in the contested waters.

President Rodrigo Duterte, this year's chairperson of Asean, was confident that the Southeast Asian leaders' meeting with China would pave the way for a "strategic parternship" between them.

"I look forward to having a fruitful and productive meeting that shall demonstrate our common resolve of mutual understanding toward the realization of our shared goals and aspiration," Duterte said. (SunStar Philippines)
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