China Vows to Press Ahead Toward South China Sea Code of Conduct

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations vowed to seek consensus on creating a set of rules to avoid tensions in the South China Sea, the Foreign Ministry said today.

Officials at a three-day meeting in the Chinese city of Suzhou agreed to set up a working group to discuss details of a code of conduct and set up a panel of experts and eminent people, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said today.

“The principles of making gradual progress and seeking consensus is what was agreed upon by all participants to the meeting,” Hong said.

China agreed to the talks on a code of conduct in July, after having resisted negotiations as competition for oil, gas and fish in the waters increased tensions with fellow claimants including the Philippines. It took almost a decade for Asean and China to agree on a way to implement a non-binding 2002 declaration to keep peace in the waters.

Since 2010, China has cut the cables of survey ships working for Vietnam, chased away an exploration vessel near the Philippines and sent its first deep-water drilling rig to the region. Last year, China National Offshore invited bids for exploration blocks that Vietnam had already awarded to companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and OAO Gazprom.

— With assistance by Henry Sanderson

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