Speaking on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Summit in Naypyidaw on Saturday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the country is willing to listen to suggestions regarding the South China Sea dispute, but reiterated that their position is “firm and unshakable”.
The minister’s statements, issued by the Chinese embassy on 11 August, insisted that China and ASEAN are capable of handling “the so-called tensions”, stating that “the overall situation in the South China Sea is stable and there is no problem with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea”.
Following the ASEAN Regional Summit held in the capital from 8-10 August during Burma’s first ever chairmanship of the regional bloc, the group’s ten member nations released a statement stressing the urgency of resolving the maritime dispute, which “emphasized the need for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct… and early conclusion of a Code of Conduct”.
Wang also met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in a closed-door meeting on Saturday to discuss relations between the two superpowers, which he described as stable and improving.
The US, which co-chairs a regional maritime security board, “will continue to encourage greater multilateral cooperation through increased transparency and confidence building”, according to the State Department.
“I expressed the concerns of many, which are shared, about the rise in tensions that have occurred,” Kerry said in a press briefing on Sunday. He emphasised the need for a quickly-implemented, legally-binding code that adheres to international standards.
“And I stressed the importance of everybody clarifying claims under international law and proceeding under the legal process through the law, through arbitration, and also through bilateral relationships,” he continued.
A statement by the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon said Kerry assured Wang that “the US will not take sides on the issue of the South China Sea”.
The disputed area is claimed in part by four Southeast Asian countries – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei – as well as China and Taiwan. Controversy intensified earlier this year when a Chinese oil rig was positioned in disputed waters near Vietnam.
While the US is not directly involved in the South China Sea dispute, it advocates for a clear and speedy resolution between the claimants, for fear of issues of freedom of navigation in the disputed waters.