MANILA - Japan is pushing for a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, a spokesman for Tokyo's diplomatic delegation here said Sunday.
"Our stance is clear, we need a legally binding and effective COC in the dialogue between China and ASEAN," Toshihide Ando, deputy press secretary of the Japanese Ministry on Foreign Affairs, said in a press conference hours after the approval of a framework that would guide claimant nations on activities in the disputed waters.
At least 4 ASEAN member states - the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam - have overlapping claims with China in the strategic route which Beijing has peppered with manmade islands capable of housing military troops and weapons.
Vietnam was reportedly urging other Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea by making the framework on the code of conduct in the disputed territory legally binding.
The Philippines and Cambodia, ASEAN member states that received aid from China, were pushing to have the legally binding clause removed.
"Japan is greatly concerned in the building of large-scale outposts in the South China Sea. We would like to emphasize our strong opposition to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion," Ando said.
"We hope that a legally binding and effective COC will be finalized and will be produced," he added.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi earlier said formal negotiations with Southeast Asian nations will begin this year provided that "outside parties" will not meddle with the talks.
Japan, though not a claimant country, has been pressing for the rapid adoption of a binding code of conduct over competing territorial claims as it asserts freedom of navigation and overflight in the region where about $5 trillion in goods pass through annually.
Wang, Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono and their counterparts from ASEAN and South Korea met Monday for the 18th ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers Meeting.