MANILA – China said Monday it was "ready to work" with the Philippines and ASEAN towards a code of conduct in disputed waters, which will serve as a "stabilizer" in the region.
Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN earlier this year agreed to a draft COC, outlining the claimants' bargaining positions over the strategic waterway.
"China is ready to work with the Philippines and other ASEAN countries to enhance dialogue and cooperation, overcome external disruptions, [and] conclude COC consultations at an early date so that COC could really serve as stabilizer for the South China Sea," said Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang was in Davao for his first ever meeting with Department of Foreign Affairs Sec. Teddy Locsin Jr, who said negotiations for a COC were "moving forward with astonishing amity."
Signing China up to a legally binding and enforceable code for the waterway has long been a goal for claimant members of ASEAN, some of whom have sparred for years over what they see as China’s disregard for their sovereign rights and its blocking of fishermen and energy exploration efforts.
Locsin said "perhaps we will not be able to arrive at a legally binding COC," but the document will be a "standard" on how ASEAN can behave "always with honor, never with aggression and always for the mutual progress."
Whether the COC is legally binding or not, Wang said China would "strictly abide by" and "firmly implement" the agreement.
The situation in the South China Sea "is improving and getting more stable" thanks to the efforts of Beijing, Manila and other regional countries, he said.
Wang also urged Southeast Asian countries to be vigilant against external "interference and disruptions."
"Some non-regional countries are doing things completely counter to our efforts. They have never hesitated stirring up trouble and waves in the South China Sea. They've been willful in showing up their force in this water," he said.
"Regional countries need to keep high vigilance against such momentum... We must further enhance our solidarity and work together to make the South China Sea a sea of friendship, peace and cooperation."
China earlier this month expressed anger after a US Navy destroyer sailed near the islands it claims in the South China Sea.
Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war in which they have imposed increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on each other's imports.
Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines all claim some or all of the South China Sea and its myriad shoals, reefs and islands. Taiwan also claims it. -- With a report from Reuters