China, ASEAN foreign ministers hold special meeting

The foreign ministers of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Thursday began their special meeting, during which competing maritime claims in the South China Sea are expected to top the agenda.

The half-day meeting in Beijing will serve as an important venue to discuss how to advance a proposed regional code of conduct to settle territorial and maritime conflicts in the sea, ahead of the ASEAN summit and other related meetings in Brunei in early October.

In June, the foreign ministers agreed to launch formal consultations on a legally binding code of conduct to that end by their senior officials next month in China's Suzhou.

But China, which has bolstered its naval power in recent years, has long adopted the position that territorial disputes in the South China Sea, involving the Philippines, Vietnam and several other countries, should be addressed bilaterally.

So it remains uncertain how much tangible progress they can make in laying the groundwork for the creation of the code during the meeting, organized to mark the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the so-called China-ASEAN strategic partnership.

A senior ASEAN diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said China's stance remains intact that it does not want to "multi-lateralize" South China Sea issues and what Beijing most wants out of the meeting is sending a message to the rest of the world that it is "compromising with the parties concerned by allowing working group and senior official meetings."

The diplomat said China is keen on avoiding the issues getting heated up again during the upcoming ASEAN summit-related meetings.

The sea is rich in marine resources and thought to contain large deposits of oil and natural gas.

In Beijing, the Chinese and ASEAN foreign ministers are also planning to discuss elements to put in a joint statement to be issued by their leaders at a summit to mark the 10th anniversary, which is scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the meetings in Brunei in October, according to diplomats involved in the negotiations.

The 10-member ASEAN also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.