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At ASEAN, China agrees to formal talks to ease South China Sea tensions

A day after Manila accused Beijing of causing "increasing militarization" of the South China Sea, China agreed to formal talks, a move hailed as "very significant."

asean 2013Enlarge
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (L), South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se (2nd L), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) and Brunei Foreign Minister Mohammad Bolkiah shake hands the ASEAN way during the 14th ASEAN . (ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

China agreed Monday to hold formal talks to resolve tensions in the South China Sea, key areas of which are disputed by Southeast Asian nations.

The accession comes a day after Manila accused Beijing of causing "increasing militarization" of the South China Sea, Reuters reported.

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario's accusation came at a regional summit in Brunei, where Southeast Asia's top diplomats were trying to ease tensions with China amid warnings that failure could lead to conflict.

Another issue for discussion at the annual 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting was the uncontrolled burning of Indonesian rainforests that has caused unprecedented polution levels in Singapore, Malaysia and other neighboring countries.

The United States, China, Japan, Russia and other countries across the Asia-Pacific will also be represented at the talks from Monday.

However, China's claims and actions in the South China Sea were as usual set to dominate.

The South China Sea covers more than 1.16 million square miles and borders southern China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo island, and mainland Southeast Asia.

Beijing and most other countries know it as the South China Sea. Hanoi calls it the East Sea and Manila officially refers to it as the West Philippine Sea.

The sea is the main maritime link between the Pacific and Indian oceans, and its shipping lanes connect East Asia with Europe and the Middle East — lending it huge trade and military value.

UPI wrote that ministers at the meeting were seeking a binding code of conduct among countries with territorial disagreements in the area. It quoted Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa as saying:

"We have to have the code of conduct. Otherwise, uncertainty will prevail."

The code would set down rules to prevent potentially volatile confrontations, Japan's Kyodo news service said.

Del Rosario highlighted the obstacle China posed to reaching any agreement on a code of conduct, saying there was a "massive presence of Chinese military and paramilitary ships" at two groups of islets within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone known as Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal.

Del Rosario described the Chinese military presence at these islets as "threats to efforts to maintain maritime peace and stability in the region."

Without adressing the accusations directly, China agreed to hold "official consultations" on the proposed code of conduct.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Brunei:

"We agreed to maritime cooperation to make our surrounding sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation."

Thailand's foreign minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, hailed the step as "very significant."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/130630/south-china-sea-aseas-manila-philippines-brunei