The head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has expressed confidence that the bloc was progressing towards creating a code of conduct for disputed waters, but a Chinese official appeared to refute that view.
Officials present at meetings in Cambodia stressed the need to maintain momentum in discussions on a conduct code, the aim of which is to resolve territorial tensions in the resource-rich South China Sea between ASEAN members and China.
Beijing has opposed efforts to settle disagreements at multilateral forums, saying it prefers to handle them on a bilateral basis.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in July broke up without issuing a communique for the first time in the bloc's history, an outcome that analysts blamed on host Cambodia's weakness in standing up to pressure from China.
In an interview on the sidelines of the Phnom Penh gathering, ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said he believed there was a 'momentum of good will' towards establishing a rulebook for tackling disputes in the waters, the report said.
"Senior officials have done their work on the elements that would eventually go into what we would call the code of conduct, and they have I think been able to revive that negotiation with the Chinese," Dr. Pitsuwan said.
"They [Asean and China] have had some frank and candid discussions on the way forward, and that is they will continue to engage and work for the code of conduct because both [sides] believe that this would be an important instrument in helping to calm down the anxiety and the concern of all parties with direct and indirect interest," Dr. Pitsuwan added.
According to the report, but at a press briefing in Beijing on Saturday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying reiterated the administration's stance that conflicts should be settled by direct negotiations with individual governments and not involve nations that don't have direct stakes.
"China and Asean countries have confidence that they can resolve these disputes peacefully," she said.
"If you have trust in us, you can help us, instead of taking negative steps or causing trouble. That would not be advisable," she said to other countries. (ANI)