China, ASEAN "make progress" on code of conduct in S. China Sea: official

A senior Thai Foreign Ministry official said Sunday that Chinese and ASEAN negotiators made progress this weekend toward forging a legally binding code of conduct among claimant states in the South China Sea to ease tensions and prevent territorial and maritime disputes from flaring up.

Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phuangketkaow, speaking to reporters after the two-day meeting in China's eastern city of Suzhou, said, "We have made progress on the COC since we received a commitment from China to move on the talks seriously."

Sihasak said that while differences remain, Chinese and ASEAN leaders are likely to convey their political will to forge the code of conduct when they issue a joint statement after their summit in Brunei next month.

"We agreed to maintain momentum and good environment for the further talks," he said, adding that Thailand will host the next formal consultation early next year.

On their differing approaches to the proposed code of conduct, he said ASEAN sees it as a way to build trust, prevent unexpected incidents and manage incidents when they occur.

China, on the other hand, tends to be pragmatic, considering how it might benefit and assessing how the code might limit its actions in the South China Sea, he said.

China has long maintained that territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety, should be resolved bilaterally among claimant states.

But the new government of President Xi Jinping recently opened the door for talks with ASEAN on the proposed code, which it aimed at guiding the behavior of claimant states in the sea, in order to reduce tensions and facilitate a proper settlement of the disputes.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Four ASEAN members -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- have claims in the South China Sea.