China, ASEAN agree to move forward with negotiations on South China Sea code of conduct

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 29) — Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes the Philippines, struck an agreement with China to move forward with negotiations for a code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

The code, which will define what the six claimants to the South China Sea can and cannot do in the disputed waters, was discussed during the 15th senior officials' meeting on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, held in Changsha City, Hunan Province in China this week.

"All parties acknowledged the sound and stable situation that the South China Sea is enjoying at the moment, reaffirmed the importance of the comprehensive and effective implementation of the DOC, and agreed to move ahead the COC consultations based on the already established COC framework so as to produce a unified draft document at an early date which will act as the basis for next-stage talks," China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said in his regular press briefing Thursday.

Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo represented the country during the talks. For years, the Philippines and other ASEAN members have been pushing for a legally-binding COC.

China and ASEAN signed the DOC in 2002,  but it was only last year that they finally agreed on a framework for the COC.

"All participants agreed that we will peacefully resolve the South China Sea disputes through negotiations, control differences within the framework set out by regional rules, enhance mutual trust and prevent unexpected incidents on the sea through cooperation, and jointly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea," Geng added.

Without specifying any country, Geng also warned against "external forces" that are "hyping up" issues on the South China Sea.

"We hope that countries outside this region could respect the collective efforts made by regional countries to preserve regional peace and stability and promote regional cooperation, development and prosperity. They should refrain from stirring up trouble out of nothing," Geng said.

The U.S. earlier called out China for its supposed militarization of the South China Sea, even flying bomber planes over the area to monitor activities there.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Taiwan and ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have competing claims in the South China Sea which is believed to be rich in resources.