'Don't flaunt ASEAN banner' on the S. China Sea issue

Updated: 2013-08-30 03:19

By Zhang Yunbi and Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

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The top Chinese diplomat said on Thursday that China opposes certain ASEAN member nations "trying to tout their own stand as that of the regional organization" on the South China Sea issue, which will certainly harm common interests between China and ASEAN.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the remarks at a news conference after the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting, held in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their strategic partnership.

'Don't flaunt ASEAN banner' on the S. China Sea issue

Premier Li Keqiang (center) and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (second from right) meet foreign ministers from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the strategic partnership between China and ASEAN at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. Also pictured are Bruneian Foreign Minister Mohamed Bolkiah (left), Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul (second from left), and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. [FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY]

"The ASEAN colleagues and I agreed that they (the disputes) are not expected to define the relationship, and we should not allow them to affect our overall interests," Wang said in reference to the disputes over some islets in the South China Sea.

Wang said though the meeting focused on regional cooperation and trust-building, "we did not shy away from problems that exist".

"Currently the situation in the South China Sea is stable, and when we look at other places in the world, we should dearly cherish that."

Tensions between China and the Philippines have flared up in the past months over maritime territorial disputes. Manila has repeatedly sought to include the South China Sea issue in joint declarations of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, drawing criticism from some member countries.

Premier Li Keqiang told ASEAN foreign ministers later on Thursday that the priority of China-ASEAN cooperation should be on the economy, given the complex situation of the global economic recovery and challenges facing some emerging markets.

The premier assured the ministers that Beijing will firmly adhere to the path of peaceful development and properly handle disputes with some ASEAN countries.

Li is scheduled to attend the 10th China-ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, to be held next week in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. China-ASEAN trade topped $210 billion in the first half of this year, an increase of 12.2 percent year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said deep cooperation and a free trade agreement between the two sides have enabled China and ASEAN to weather the world financial crisis.

"The two sides should properly handle the disputes and put them under control," Ruan said.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who co-chaired the meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Thursday, said, "We will not allow any particular issue to overshadow ASEAN-China relations, which are progressing well." Further meetings on the South China Sea issue are scheduled for September.

Surapong said ASEAN looks forward to holding "constructive and substantive" discussions with China.

Jia Duqiang, an expert on Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said some troublemakers in the region have ignored the fact that "ASEAN as a whole has never been a contending party in the South China Sea issue". By stirring up the issue, some countries have "threatened the interests of other South Asian countries", he said.

The 11 foreign ministers agreed on Thursday to focus on regional economic integration, and vowed to upgrade the China-ASEAN free trade area and push forward negotiations on a regional comprehensive economic partnership.

Chen Qinghong, a researcher on Philippine studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that as the strategic partnership enters its 10th year, it is time for China and ASEAN to update the relationship, eliminate worries and forge a fresh start for the next decade.

He Liu contributed to this story.

Contact the writers at zhangyunbi@chinadaily.com.cn and lixiaokun@chinadaily.com.cn