July 24, 2017 / 7:08 AM / 2 months ago

China says it wants to 'maintain stability' in disputed South China Sea

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) shakes hands with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha (R) at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand July 24, 2017. REUTERS/Lillian Suwanrumpha/Pool

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday Beijing wanted to maintain stability in the South China Sea as it seeks alliances in the region amid tensions in the disputed waters.

The United States has criticized China for disregarding international law by the construction and militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea, undermining regional stability.

China claims most of the energy-rich sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Thailand is not a claimant state in the dispute and has maintained a neutral stance on the topic.

Addressing the South China Sea issue, Wang, on an official visit to Bangkok, told reporters China would like to “maintain stability in the South China Sea, abiding by the terms that have been agreed on the Declaration of Conduct and Code of Conduct in near future”.

China and Southeast Asian countries agreed in May to a framework for a long-proposed code of conduct for the disputed waters.

Wang’s visit comes ahead of a regional meeting of Southeast Asian countries in Manila next month.

“China and Thailand are like brothers,” Wang said.

Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai praised Thai-Chinese relations, saying there were “no obstacles” to the relationship between the two.

Thailand this year has approved Chinese submarines, tank and helicopter purchases worth more than $500 million.

Last month, Thailand approved the construction of the first phase of a $5.5 billion railway project to link the industrial eastern seaboard with southern China through landlocked Laos, part of China’s One Belt One Road regional infrastructure drive.

The project, which has been held back by delays, was pushed through after junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha invoked an executive order known as Article 44.

Wang said he hoped the rail project would “elevate” Thailand’s status in the region and said that the two countries would overcome differences to bring the rail project to fruition.

($1 = 33.4200 baht)

Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Angie Teo and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Nick Macfie

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