MANILA -- China and Southeast Asian countries are now at a new starting point to jointly build a sea of peace, stability and prosperity, following significant progress in consultations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the 20th China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders' meeting here Monday that China and ASEAN will start consultations on the text of the COC.
The COC framework was adopted in August by a meeting of ASEAN and Chinese foreign ministers.
It is widely acknowledged that the situation in the South China Sea has significantly stabilized since last year and is once again on a positive trajectory.
The positive developments include establishing a hotline between the ministries of foreign affairs of China and ASEAN members to manage maritime emergencies, and holding a China-ASEAN maritime rescue drill.
All the progress was possible due to the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, reflecting a positive momentum and consensus to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.
During the 20th ASEAN-China, Japan and South Korea (10+3) leaders' meeting, Li said China expects to work with ASEAN on the basis of friendly negotiations to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and to push for consultations on the COC.
The text consultations are the most crucial part of the process, involving many sensitive and complex issues.
While maintaining confidence about the eventual adoption of the COC, China and ASEAN should display political wisdom and courage in handling possible difficulties and challenges.
China has pointed out the way for the next step. The parties involved should follow three principles during the COC consultations.
The first is the dual-track approach. The countries directly concerned should resolve disputes peacefully through negotiations and consultations and jointly uphold peace and stability in the region.
The second is to continue COC consultations and maritime practical cooperation parallelly, reinforcing each other.
And the third is not allowing any outside interference.
The improved situation in the South China Sea and the progress in COC consultations demonstrate that China and ASEAN are capable of reaching consensus on the COC, which will manage disputes in the future while maintaining peace and security in the region.
The future development and prosperity of the region can't be achieved without a peaceful and stable South China Sea. If the situation deteriorates, the countries in the region would be the ones to suffer most. China and ASEAN should unitedly reject attempts by some external powers to interfere.
The hard-won improvement in the South China Sea needs to be cherished and continued. The relevant parties should create a positive atmosphere to facilitate COC consultations in a joint effort to build a peaceful, stable and prosperous South China Sea.