Thursday's declaration follows an April ASEAN leaders' meeting that notably excluded any reference to China's assertive behavior in the South China Sea, including its construction of seven artificial islands in the Spratly group.
China's foreign ministry released a party statement saying that all the nations had agreed to "uphold using the framework of regional rules to manage and control disputes, to deepen practical maritime cooperation, to promote consultation on the code and jointly maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea". Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. The reef is one of the several Chinese-controlled features in the South China Sea where China has carried out reclamation work.
For his part, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and China-ASEAN Senior Officials' Meeting co-chair Liu Zhenmin commended his fellow senior officials from 10-member ASEAN for hard work and dedication. The strategy has provoked intense reaction from other claimants and the USA, which argues China's actions threaten the ability to navigate freely through the strategically important area.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony held in Beijing, China October 20, 2016. That document saw all eleven parties pledge their commitment to eventually conclude a binding code of conduct.
Chee Wee Kiong, permanent secretary at Singapore's foreign ministry, said a draft framework would be submitted to a meeting of the foreign ministers of China and the ASEAN states in the Philippines in August.
"I'm sure it will be a very important point of discussion in future consultations", he said, suggesting that Thursday's framework agreement is likely a general agreement.
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The participants have not mentioned dates for the adoption of a full code of conduct, and while Huang said he thought the sides could act as early as this year to seize the positive momentum, Storey said a final agreement was likely "some years off".
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, a key shipping lane that is believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources. "We just hope when relevant countries conduct such exchange and cooperation they should bear in mind such activities not hurt the interests of other countries or have a negative impact to regional peace and stability", Hua said.
Meanwhile, China said a meeting of Japanese and New Zealand prime ministers regarding the South China Sea was "inappropriate".
China's government has also repeatedly asserted that it can do whatever it likes on what it says is its own territory.
China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$6.95 trillion) in sea-borne trade passes every year. "If we went straight to the contentious issues, we would not get to where we are now". If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.
Be Civil - It's OK to have a difference in opinion but there's no need to be a jerk. "We cling to those rights by not mentioning the verdict", he added.