China warned the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to avoid discussions on the territorial tensions in the South China Sea at the meeting between foreign ministers from the 10-member nations and their Chinese counterpart Wednesday.
Seeking to resolve the territorial tensions in the South China Sea, the ASEAN had earlier hammered out the key elements of a code of conduct in the region which has been at the heart of recent maritime confrontations between China, a member of the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) forum and the other nations in the Pacific.
ASEAN was all set to seek China's agreement on the newly adopted set of rules to ensure discipline in the resource-rich region of the South China Sea.
The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Phnom Penh for the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meeting this week along with delegates from the other 25 invited nations to reach a resolution to end the geopolitical tension in the region.
China rejected Clinton's call by issuing the new caveat. Clinton had earlier asked China and the ASEAN nations to resolve their disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and without conflict.
The ASEAN meetings are not an appropriate venue for discussing the South China Sea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Tuesday, answering questions on U.S. concerns over the South China Sea dispute, according to a Bloomberg report. Intentional stirring up of the issue is ignoring the nations striving for development, intentionally kidnapping the relationship between China and ASEAN.
Beijing does not want the peace process in the South China Sea to be disturbed, said Liu, adding that China has always supported the building of the ASEAN community... We hope the foreign ministers' meeting at the ASEAN Regional Forum can produce positive outcomes, the China Daily reported.
China's Foreign Ministry had earlier said that the country was willing to discuss the code of conduct. When conditions are ripe, China would like to discuss with ASEAN countries the formulation of the COC (code of conduct), said Liu on Monday, as reported by the BBC.
China's growing maritime influence in the region has neighboring nations, including Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, worried over territorial confrontations. Beijing lays claim to almost the entire South China Sea, including what is recognized by the U.N. as the Exclusive Economic Zone of other neighbors, according to reports.
The Philippines, which was involved in a tug-of-war with China recently over the ownership of the Scarborough Shoal, has been seeking ASEAN's support in pressurizing Beijing to accept the code of conduct.
Although China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines have long been involved in the South China Sea dispute, the recent standoff was triggered on April 10 when two Chinese ships thwarted the Philippines's effort to arrest several Chinese fishermen accused of illegally entering and poaching near the Scarborough area.
Recent military drills, involving nearly 7,000 U.S. and Philippine forces, intensified the standoff which led to a top military publication in China warning that the U.S. may be risking an armed confrontation by undertaking joint military drills with the Philippines.