China is drafting a five-year plan on maritime cooperation in the South China Sea and neighboring waters, a senior official told Xinhua News Agency Thursday. Beijing is engaged in a long-standing territorial dispute in the South China Sea with several countries including the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The plan will focus on partnerships between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and in East Asia, Chen Yue, deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration’s international cooperation department, told Xinhua. Chen did not elaborate on the potential plan or say when it will be announced.

Meanwhile, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Wu Qian said Thursday Beijing would conduct a multinational exercise between May 2 and May 12, for which it will send the missile destroyer Lanzhou, staff officers and a dozen special forces troops. 

The maritime security and counterterrorism exercise will feature the militaries of the 10 ASEAN countries, including rival claimants in the South China Sea, along with the U.S., India and six other countries, the Associated Press reported. The drill will be conducted in Singapore and Brunei and in nearby waters of the South China Sea.

Earlier in the day, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his country would safeguard peace and stability in the disputed region and maintain the nation's sovereignty and rights there.

The South China Sea has been long debated, with Beijing laying claims to most of the region. Apart from China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have laid claims to the waters. Beijing has been expanding its presence in the region and has built three runways on the Spratly archipelago. China has consistently defended its actions, saying it does not have any intentions of starting a conflict and that its aircraft facilities will maintain safety in the region.