Chinese foreign minister promises progress on South China Sea code of conduct – The Diplomat

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power of china | Diplomacy | East Asia

In Malaysia, the last leg of his tour of five Southeast Asian countries, Wang Yi said “no one can separate” China and Southeast Asian countries.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah meets with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Putrajaya, Malaysia on July 12, 2022.

Credit: Twitter/Saifuddin Abdullah

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday pledged to speed up consultations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the long-awaited code of conduct for the South China Sea. While it’s unlikely to signal much progress on the eternally promised deal, it does offer some insight into how Beijing is seeking to counter the recent US diplomatic offensive in the region.

Wang made the comments during a meeting with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah in Putrajaya, the final leg of a tour of five Southeast Asian countries that also took him to Myanmar, Thailand, in the Philippines and Indonesia.

According to a report by Malaysia’s state-run Bernama news agency, Wang pledged that China would speed up consultations on the Code of Conduct (COC) and “advocate genuine multilateralism and advanced open regionalism.”

“We will uphold the centrality of ASEAN and the ASEAN regional cooperation framework,” he pledged. “We will oppose confrontation and cold war mentality.”

The Code of Conduct (COC) aims to reduce the risk of conflict in the South China Sea in the contested waterway where China’s vast maritime and territorial claims clash with those of four ASEAN member states: Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. The COC has been a standing item on China’s and ASEAN’s agenda since the turn of the century, but its realization remains a long way off, despite some predictions that Cambodia, the current ASEAN chair and a close friend and partner of China, could use his presidency. to push the COC over the finish line.

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In this context of glacial progress, it is foolish to regard Wang’s comments as anything more than an attempt to buy time as China’s growing naval power creates facts on the ground in contested parts of the Sea of Southern China. But the continued focus on the COC reflects Beijing’s broader push for Southeast Asian countries to see Western interventions in South China Sea disputes as interventions by outside powers. It also reflects China’s broader message, one it has emphasized since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which contrasts Beijing’s closeness and continued engagement with Southeast Asia with the fleeting, episodic and supposedly destabilizing nature of American involvement.

For example, during his interview with Saifuddin, Wang said he “deeply and strongly feels the urgent need and the bright prospects for stronger cooperation between China and ASEAN”, adding: “The people of China and ASEAN countries have interacted in this piece of land with each other for millennia and no one can separate them, no one can stop us from marching towards development and multilateralism.

Wang made a similar statement during his stopover in Indonesia, when he said Southeast Asian countries should avoid “being used as chess pieces in great power rivalry and coercion. “. He added: “The future of our region should be in our hands.”

These comments contained more than a clue to the speech China’s Supreme Leader Xi Jinping made in 2014, when he called on “Asian peoples to keep Asia safe.” Although the speech has been subject to various interpretations and some have questioned whether it represented Beijing’s active call for the United States to be expelled from East Asia, it certainly reflects a desire to downplay Washington’s influence and portray it as an “outsider”. Powerful. Unfortunately for the United States, the message has only been helped by the hazy and scattered nature of recent American engagement with Southeast Asia.

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