Beijing – China is willing to work with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to fully implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman has said.
In his regular press conference Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China is also willing to deepen maritime practical cooperation to arrive at a code of conduct (COC) “based on consensus at an early date.”
“According to the work plan, China and ASEAN countries will finish consultation on the draft framework of the COC in the first half of this year,” Geng told the media.
On the occasion of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary this year, Geng said China will support important consensus in building the ASEAN community, maintaining centrality in regional cooperation, and playing a bigger role in international and regional affairs.
“We congratulate it (ASEAN) on its achievements in growth, commend it for its contribution to regional peace, stability, development and prosperity,” he said.
“We believe ASEAN will make greater progress under the concerted efforts of the Philippines as the rotating chair and other ASEAN countries.”
Geng said China took note of the statement of President Duterte as chair of the 30th ASEAN Summit held last weekend in Manila.
“We have also noted what was mentioned in the chairman’s statement about the South China Sea,” he said.
In the final version of the chairman’s statement, President Duterte said the ASEAN countries have reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea.
The ASEAN leaders have also underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the DOC “in its entirety.”
Geng said the joint efforts of the ASEAN countries have “cooled down” the situation in the South China Sea.
“The situation in the South China Sea has since last year stabilized, thanks to the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, including the Philippines. It serves the common interests of all countries in the region,” the Chinese official said.
He said the 30th ASEAN summit reconfirmed the positive changes in the South China Sea where other ASEAN countries, such as Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, have territorial claims.
“Going forward, the Chinese side will continue to properly address the South China Sea issue with the Philippines through dialogue and consultation and create an enabling atmosphere for the sound and steady growth of China-Philippines relations and all-round progress in bilateral practical cooperation,” he said.
Geng further noted that the concerted efforts made by both the Philippines, under President Duterte, and China, under President Xi Jinping, have resulted in the “overall improvement” of the two countries’ bilateral relationship.
“Practical cooperation has fully unfolded, producing remarkable results and bringing tangible benefits to people of both countries. It fully proves that good neighborliness and friendly cooperation is the right choice in the fundamental interests of the two countries and two peoples,” the official said.
President Duterte is set to return to Beijing to attend the Belt & Road Forum for International Cooperation on May 14-15, eight months after his first visit in October last year that revived the Philippines-China relations amid the South China Sea issue.
Geng, meanwhile, described President Duterte’s visit to the Chinese naval vessel that docked in Davao City last Sunday as a show of “growing political mutual trust” between the Philippines and China.
“The Chinese side will work with the Philippine side to continue to strengthen mutual trust, properly handle the issue of the South China Sea, deepen practical cooperation and push for the sustained, sound and steady growth of the bilateral relationship for the benefit of the two peoples,” Geng said.