Sovereignty over the South China Sea has long been in dispute, causing enormous tensions over the years between China and its neighbours, with China accused of deploying warships, arming outposts and ramming fishing vessels. However, on Sunday November 3rd, Beijing said it is "ready to work" with Southeast Asian nations to set out conduct guidelines for the area, according to AFP.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been locked in talks for a code of conduct for the sea, where China, claiming most of the major global shipping route, is accused of building up military installations.
The deal, set to be finalised in 2021, will establish a code of conduct for the sea along with conflict resolution parameters.
On Sunday, the 35th Asean Summit and related Summits was officially declared opened by Thailand’s Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan o-cha.
In the 22nd ASEAN-China Summit, Chinese premier Li Keqiang said the first reading of the document was "a very important landmark".
"We stand ready to work with ASEAN countries building on the existing foundation and the basis to strive for new progress" on the guidelines, he said, adding that his country seeks to "maintain and uphold long-term peace and stability in the South China Sea".
Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Vietnam also claim parts of the South China Sea. The overlap of territory that China claims it owns has led to disputes between China and some of its neighbours. In some areas, China has created artificial islands and built military facilities to strengthen its hold over the area. But in 2016, a world arbitration court ruled China had “no legal basis” for its claims.
According to Japan’s foreign ministry, “Sea of Japan” is “the only internationally established name” for the area. In 2017, Indonesia claimed the right to call the sea the North Natuna Sea. Vietnam and South Korea call the waters the East Sea, while North Korea uses the term East Sea of Korea. Seoul argues that “East Sea” dates back some 2,000 years, but Japan renamed it during its decades-long colonial rule of Korea.
The US has accused China of bullying behaviour in the sea, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that America has been too lenient with China.
"We hesitated and did far less than we should have," he said, referring to China's disputes with Vietnam which have flared in recent weeks.