April 4, 2017 / 9:03 AM / in 6 months

China, ASEAN make progress on framework deal on disputed sea, Philippines says

FILE PHOTO - Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

MANILA (Reuters) - China and Southeast Asian countries have made progress in talks on a code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea, the Philippine acting foreign minister said on Tuesday.

China claims almost the entire waterway, through which about $5 trillion in sea-borne goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

“We have made good progress on coming up with a framework for a code on conduct with China,” Philippine Acting Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo said, adding the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China were more than halfway through identifying the contents.

“From a scale of 1-10, we are at the upper level. Remember, we were starting from zero in January. There have been a number of elements agreed and we would definitely have a framework on which to embark a serious negotiation on a code of conduct.”

Negotiators from China and ASEAN have met in Indonesia and Cambodia in the last two months to try to come up with a final draft, which could be approved ahead of the August meeting by Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Manila.

Manalo also said Manila would hold talks with Beijing next month to tackle “issues of concern regarding the South China Sea”, including China’s militarization of several manmade islands in the Spratly Islands.

The bilateral mechanism is one of two dialogues held by China with claimant states. The other is with Vietnam.

The United States, the Philippines and Vietnam have protested against China’s militarization of the Spratlys.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to discuss Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea when they meet on Thursday and Friday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie

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