Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last week that Beijing and all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had finalised the first draft of a code of conduct covering the South China Sea.
During talks last month, Wang told reporters, the parties were able to make “clear progress” towards an agreement on activities in the South China Sea, where several ASEAN members have laid claim to areas over which China has asserted sovereignty. As a result, he said, they had succeeded in wrapping up work on the first draft of the code.
The parties “feel satisfied with this”, he said. He was speaking during his annual press conference on the sidelines of the Chinese parliamentary session.
Wang did not reveal any details of the draft document. He did assert that tensions in the South China Sea had lessened significantly over the last year, though. And in a veiled warning to the US, which regularly conducts patrols aimed at ensuring freedom of navigation in the area, he said Beijing and its allies would condemn any interference by third parties.
“We definitely will not allow this stable situation, which has been hard to come by, [to] be damaged or interfered with,” he commented.
Beijing has laid claim to a large section of the South China Sea that includes the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands. These island chains lie in waters that may hold significant quantities of crude oil and natural gas.
The Chinese claim has sparked objections from several other countries – including Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia – that have asserted their own sovereignty over the South China Sea. Nevertheless, Chinese companies have continued to explore areas claimed by other countries.
In 2014, for example, China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) launched exploration drilling in the South China Sea, using the Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig to drill at a site near the Paracel Islands. Its actions led to a stand-off between Chinese and Vietnamese naval vessels.