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Singapore's FM: South China Sea is 'calmer'

Updated:2018-02-07 10:38:21   CGTN

The situation in the South China Sea where several countries have overlapping territorial claims is "calmer" now, Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Tuesday.

Balakrishnan made the remarks after informal talks between foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore, the current chair of the 10-member bloc.

"The situation in the South China Sea is calmer now," he said. "I believe there is shared good faith and good will from both sides to try to make a significant advance this year. And that is why we should be able to start negotiations soon."

Last August, China and ASEAN countries drew up and approved the framework of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea at the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in the Philippine capital Manila.

During the 20th China-ASEAN (10+1) leaders' meeting in Manila last November, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the two sides would start consultations on the text of the COC. China, with most of its freight of foreign trade passing through the South China Sea, wants peace and stability for that area more than any other country, Li stressed.

According to Balakrishnan, the talks will follow a "mutually agreed timeline."

"Building up trust and getting the sequence right and doing it step by step is more important than doing it in a hasty way because there is an artificial deadline," he added, noting that the negotiation would be "complicated."

In an interview with The Straits Times last week, Balakrishnan said Singapore would be an honest broker in the talks over the COC.

"And even if we can't have a complete solution, we at least don't make it worse. We try to explore at least some preliminary steps which can improve the situation," the Singaporean foreign minister said.

Both ASEAN and China have the goodwill and confidence to open the text negotiation of the COC, he added.

Commenting on Balakrishnan's remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang hailed the "improving situation in the South China Sea" at a regular press briefing on Monday.

January 6, 2016: Chinese soldiers are on patrol on a breakwater on Yongshu Reef in the South China Sea. /Xinhua Photo

"China is confident that ASEAN countries will continue to comprehensively and effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), actively promote the COC consultations and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability," Geng stressed.

Editor: Wang Shixue