Japan seeks 'transparent' sea code talks

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 08 2017 04:23 PM

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono and ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh walk after a family photo before the 18th ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers Meeting, part of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Manila, August 7, 2017. Reuters/Pool

MANILA - Japan told China that negotiations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea should be transparent, a foreign ministry official said Tuesday, as Beijing sought to keep "outside parties" out of the dispute.

Freedom of navigation and overflight should be maintained in the vital waterway, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, Monday at the sidelines of a regional security summit here.

Ministers from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Sunday approved a framework that will be the basis of a code of conduct to help manage maritime tensions.

But Wang said negotiations would commence only if the situation in the South China Sea was "generally stable."

He said there should also be "no major disruption from outside parties."

A Philippine foreign affairs spokesman earlier said the framework of the code of conduct would not be made public. 

Responding to the conditions, Toshihide Ando, a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman, said the maritime dispute was "directly related to the peace and stability in the region."

"This is a concern of the international community so we are also hoping that this issue will be solved," Ando told reporters.

Any resolution should be based on international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Ando said.

On Monday, Japan joined the United States and Australia in calling for a code of conduct that is "legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law."

China's island-building and installation of missile shelters and runways in the disputed areas came under fire in the week-long meetings hosted by the Philippines.

A joint communique following the ASEAN ministers' meeting cited the importance of "non-militarization and self-restraint" from all parties.

But it only "took note of the concerns raised by some ministers on the land reclamations and activities in the area," using carefully crafted wording seen to avoid antagonizing China.