Chinese and Southeast Asian diplomats have committed to expedite the finalization of a nonaggression pact for the South China Sea within three years. This pledge was made during a recent meeting in Beijing, where concerns were raised over recent confrontations in the disputed waters, writes the AP.
The Philippines has voiced its protests against what it considers increasingly dangerous actions by China’s coast guard and navy in recent months. On October 22, two Chinese ships blocked and separately collided with two Philippine vessels near the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.
In response to the collisions, the United States reiterated its commitment to defend the Philippines, a longstanding treaty ally, if Filipino forces came under attack in the contested waters. The Philippine government also summoned a Chinese diplomat in Manila to protest.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) diplomats expressed their concerns during the Beijing talks, part of ongoing negotiations between China and ASEAN to establish a “code of conduct” to prevent a larger armed conflict in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea has been a source of territorial disputes, with China and four ASEAN member states—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam—along with Taiwan, locked in a long-standing standoff. The region holds significant strategic importance, with potential vast undersea deposits of oil and gas.
Recent incidents in the South China Sea, such as a close encounter between a Chinese fighter jet and an American B-52 bomber, have intensified tensions between the United States and China in the region.
While the U.S. has no territorial claims, it emphasizes the importance of freedom of navigation and peaceful dispute resolution, challenging China’s expansive territorial claims in the area. China insists that the South China Sea issue is an exclusively Asian matter and has urged the U.S. not to meddle in regional affairs.