The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have agreed on a proposal to prevent conflict in the disputed South China Sea.
The foreign ministers from the 10-member ASEAN group met in Singapore to discuss territorial issues, trade and security.
Four of the 10 nations in ASEAN have territorial claims to parts of the South China Sea, which is important to world trade and holds valuable natural resources. China, however, claims nearly the whole area as its own territory. Taiwan, which is not an ASEAN member, also claims parts of the sea.
China and ASEAN have been negotiating a “code of conduct” for the disputed waterway for years. The goal is to reduce tensions and increase cooperation on issues linked to the waterway.
ASEAN member states and China agreed on a negotiating text for a code of conduct at a meeting in Changsha, China on June 27, the meeting’s final statement said.
Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that the proposal was a “milestone.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said approval of the proposal was “good news” and a “breakthrough.”
Statement admits ‘concerns’
One issue facing ASEAN countries is China’s military buildup in parts of the South China Sea. It has built three airport runways and placed anti-aircraft missiles on seven landforms in the area.
Without naming China, ASEAN ministers wrote that they “took note of the concerns expressed by some countries” on the buildup. They went on to say that those actions had hurt “trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”
In years of negotiations, ASEAN members have disagreed about how to deal with China over territorial issues in the South China Sea.
Vietnam has strongly expressed concerns over China’s growing military presence especially on landforms it claims as its own.
ASEAN members Cambodia and Laos are Chinese allies and they oppose strong language against China in ASEAN statements.
The United States has carried out so-called freedom of navigation exercises in support of keeping the waterway open to trade.
The final statement released by ASEAN ministers also welcomed talks between the U.S. and North Korea. Ministers urged support for United Nations and international efforts to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.
In addition to ministers of Southeast Asian nations, other countries with interests in the area sent high level officials.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to arrive in Singapore on Friday.
Reuters reports that officials from Japan, Russia and New Zealand met with ASEAN representatives for talks on security and trade.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Mario Ritter adapted material from VOA, AP and Reuters for this VOA Learning English story. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
conduct –n. a way of behaving, a way to carry something out
confidence –n. a feeling or belief that someone or something has the ability to do what is expected
undermine –v. to make something weaker in a hidden or slow way
stability –n. a quality of not being changed easily
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