South China Sea
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi warned against attempts to "internationalize" the issue of the South China Sea, where China has territorial disputes with some ASEAN member states, including Viet Nam and the Philippines.
"What will be the consequences if this issue is turned into an international or multilateral one? It will only make matters worse and a resolution more difficult," Yang said at the foreign ministers' meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi on July 23.
"International practices show that the best way to resolve such disputes is for countries concerned to have direct bilateral negotiations," he said.
Yang's remarks came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played up the South China Sea issue at the ASEAN event. She stressed the relationship between the South China Sea and U.S. national interests and the urgency of maintaining navigation freedom in the sea.
The South China Sea is a peaceful area with navigation freedom and safety, Yang said. Trade has been growing rapidly in this region and China has become the largest trading partner of many countries in the region.
Territorial and maritime rights disputes between China and some ASEAN members shouldn't be viewed as being between China and ASEAN as a whole, he said.
Non-claimant ASEAN countries have told China that they are not a part of the dispute and they don't want to take sides, he said.
Asian countries are able to address each other's concerns on the basis of equality and mutual respect, Yang said. The countries concerned have reached a consensus to resolve disputes peacefully, through consultations, for the sake of peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Based on the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, the countries should exercise restraint, while refraining from making the South China Sea issue an international or multilateral issue.
They have since held joint working group consultations and will have meetings of senior officials when the conditions are right, Yang said.
"Channels of discussion are there, and they are open and smooth," he said.