Singapore and China have looked into some exploratory ideas on minimising the risks from unplanned encounters in the disputed South China Sea, said Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (Feb 29).

Both countries will continue to work on these ideas in the next few months, Dr Balakrishnan added, after meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during an introductory visit to Beijing.

Singapore is not a claimant state in the South China Sea, but as the country coordinator of ASEAN-China relations, it will focus on the formulation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. The code will set guidelines for parties involved in disputes to manage tensions and avoid conflict.

Following meetings with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing, Dr Balakrishnan said they have agreed to expedite negotiations on formulating the Code of Conduct.

“We both reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. This is an essential lifeline for China and for all ASEAN countries because so much of our trade and energy flows through this area,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Wang said China’s stance on the South China Sea remains unchanged, but he added that Beijing is ready to work with ASEAN to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), while expediting consultations on the Code of Conduct.

“First of all, we believe that the specific disputes should be settled by the countries directly involved through dialogue and negotiation and this has been what’s been stipulated in article 4 of the DOC,” he said. “At the same time, China and ASEAN countries, as littoral countries of the South China Sea, will continue to maintain peace, stability and that includes the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”

China and other ASEAN countries including Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines have disputed territorial claims to parts of the South China Sea.

During Dr Balakrishnan’s two-day visit, he also met Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao. On Tuesday, he will meet State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Communist Party of China International Department Minister Song Tao.

Dr Balakrishnan is also scheduled to meet Cyberspace Administration of China Minister Lu Wei in his capacity as Minister-in-charge of Singapore’s Smart Nation Programme Office.

By JEREMY KOH Feb. 29, 2016 on Channel News Asia

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