By Teresa Cerojano and Jim Gomez
MANILA — China's top diplomat said yesterday that talks for a nonaggression pact aimed at preventing clashes from erupting in the disputed South China Sea may start this year if "outside parties" don't cause a major disruption.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the start of talks for a "code of conduct" in the disputed waters may be announced by the heads of state of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations at their annual summit in the Philippines in November if Beijing's conditions are met.
Wang told a news conference in Manila that those conditions include non-interference by "outside parties," apparently referring to the United States, which Beijing has frequently accused of meddling in what it says is an Asian dispute that should be resolved only by the countries involved.
China's territorial disputes in the strategic and potentially oil- and gas-rich waterway with five other governments intensified after it built islands in disputed waters and reportedly started to install a missile defense system on them, alarming rival claimant states, the US and other Western governments.
"If there is no major disruption from outside parties, with that as the precondition, then we will consider during the November leaders' meeting, we will jointly announce the official start of the code of conduct consultation," Wang said.
The situation in the South China Sea should also be "generally stable," he said.
"China and ASEAN have the ability to work together to maintain regional peace and stability and we will work out regional rules that we mutually agreed upon so as to open up a bright future for our future relations," he said.
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