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China bats for dialogues on sea dispute

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coast guard vessel
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel manoeuvres to block a Philippine government supply ship with members of the media aboard at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea on March 29, 2014. — AFP

China is pushing face-to-face consultations in continuing negotiations on the South China Sea Code of Conduct in time for its target completion in 2021, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said.

Negotiations on the code, which seeks to ease tensions in the disputed water, were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but Mr. Huang said an online meeting was recently held to discuss the code.

“Not long ago, a working level online meeting was held successfully,” he said in an e-am. Under the current situation, China hopes that all parties will work harder to speed up the negotiation in a flexible and pragmatic way,” Mr. Huang said in a Viber group message.

“China has proposed to hold face-to-face consultations in China once conditions permit to push forward the second reading of the CoC.”

The first reading of the single draft negotiating text of the code was completed in July 2019.

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Mr. Huang maintained China’s position, rejecting the 2016 Hague ruling that invalidated its historic nine-dash line claims over the South China Sea. But China is willing to participate in dialogues with the Philippines to settle the dispute, he added.

“We should avoid misjudgment caused by unilateral actions that would complicate the situation in the disputed waters,” he added.

He also recommended that a bilateral maritime and air liaison mechanism be established for a more effective and immediate response to maritime emergencies.

China has been building artificial islands in dispute areas of the South China Sea. It has set up two new districts in Paracel and Spratly islands, prompting the Philippine government to file diplomatic protests.

Mr. Huang reiterated its stand that US actions create chaos in the region, adding that it is the “biggest driver of militarization” of the South China Sea. “All regional countries should be vigilant, and prevent the region’s hard-won peace and development from being sabotaged.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan

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