China says Brunei, Cambodia, Laos agree sea dispute will not hurt ties
CHINA has won an agreement from Brunei, Cambodia and Laos that territorial disputes in the South China Sea should not affect relations between Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Essentially, the four nations agreed to accept the "dual-track approach" first proposed by Brunei, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a press conference on Saturday in Vientiane, the last leg of a three-nation tour that took him to Cambodia and Brunei, China's official People's Daily reported.
According to the proposal, sovereignty claims in the South China Sea are to be negotiated bilaterally without third-party involvement, while the sea's overall peace and stability are to be maintained by Asean and China without foreign interference, reported the Brunei Times.
Four members of Asean - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei - have rival claims to parts of the South China Sea with China.
The grouping, which also includes Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, recently expressed serious concerns about the disputed waters as the United States and China have stepped up military presence there, Reuters pointed out.
China seeks to keep South China Sea issues off multilateral fora, but other claimant countries, such as the Philippines, have sought to raise them, especially at Asean summits.
The dispute has been divisive for Asean.
The four-nation agreement came ahead of a ruling by an international court on a challenge by the Philippines to China's claims in the sea.
Cambodia has always been a close Chinese ally while the Laotian economy depends heavily on China.
In a bid to woo oil-rich Brunei, Mr Wang last week pledged to expand economic ties with Bandar Seri Begawan. AGENCIES