China, Asean agree on draft South China Sea code of conduct

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On Thursday, China and Southeast Asian nations agreed on a draft code of conduct that will lay the foundation for negotiations over the South China Sea.

China's top diplomat said Thursday that an initial draft of a proposed pact with Southeast Asia aimed at preventing fighting in the disputed South China Sea was a "breakthrough" in talks that can progress further without outside interference.

The exercises come as more nations, many Asean members among them, are drawn into China's orbit as the United States finds it hard to promote its policy of engaging Asia while promising to put "America First".

Wang also noted that China stands ready to share opportunities with ASEAN, jointly meet challenges, and make the bilateral cooperation a pillar of regional peace, stability, development and prosperity.

The draft however showed that Beijing wanted to stage military drills with ASEAN in the seas that excluded outside countries, a move analysts said was aimed at diminishing USA influence.

Thailand, one of Washington's oldest allies, is another major regional power perceived to have moved closer to China after USA relations came under strain because of concerns about freedoms under its military-dominated government.

The drill is a possible first step toward expanded cooperation between China and ASEAN countries in the South China Sea, where competing territorial claims have often led to tension.

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Representatives from ASEAN partner countries have stated their commitments to support the bloc's central role in the regional structure at the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM 51) and related meetings in Singapore, which runs between July 30 and August 4.

Turkish Foreign Minister earlier met his Indonesian, Japanese and Iranian counterparts separately at the ASEAN.

MALAYSIA is looking forward to the expedition of the agreement on the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea, said Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

Vietnam, for one, has been vocal in expressing concerns over China's transformation of seven disputed reefs into man-made islands, including three with runways, which now resemble small cities armed with weapons systems.

PM Lee also urged deeper economic integration from member countries amidst heating trade tensions between the U.S. and the trading bloc's other dialogue partners including China, EU and Canada.

Regarding North Korea, Pompeo said pressure on Pyongyang should be maintained as concerns mount about the Kim Jong-un regime's willingness to denuclearise.

Captain Liang Zhijia, deputy chief of operations in the Naval Forces of China's People's Liberation Army, said the exercises are a good platform to build confidence, cooperation and understanding between the country's navies.