Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan (Photo: AFP/VNA)

Singapore (VNA) – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have agreed on a “single draft” negotiating text of a Code of Conduct (COC) in the East Sea, an important stride towards narrowing differences among parties.

Speaking at the ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting on the sidelines of the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore on August 2, Foreign Minister of the host nation Vivian Balakrishnan called it a “milestone” in the COC process since the ASEAN-China Senior Officials’ Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) in China last June.

He said the text will be “a living document and the basis of future COC negotiations”, adding that both sides also agreed on the key modalities for future rounds of negotiations.

Negotiations on the COC have been conducted for more than a decade with a number of difficulties regarding its terms and pace of the talks. However, there have been clear signs of ASEAN having a more unanimous viewpoint on the East Sea issue in recent years.

In August 2017, foreign ministers of ASEAN and China adopted a draft framework for COC negotiations, a move hailed as progress in the settlement of East Sea tensions.

In March this year, a joint working group meeting was held on the implementation of the DOC.

Meanwhile, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last April that negotiations on the COC will not be easy, but he stressed it is important for the countries involved to engage in constructive talks to prevent tensions from escalating.

Minister Balakrishnan said China is one of the most substantive dialogue partners of ASEAN and both sides have achieved much over the past three years, with cooperation underpinned by robust economic linkages.

He also stressed that such strong and substantive cooperation is only possible with mutual trust and confidence and resolving differences peacefully and in the spirit of goodwill. –VNA