S. China Sea dispute shouldn't hamper China-ASEAN ties, says ex-minister

| Updated: Jul 19, 2016 18:25 IST

Singapore, July 19 (ANI): A former minister of China's State Council Information Office has said that the ongoing dispute over the South China Sea should not hamper relations between Beijing and other member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Participating in a think tank seminar on South China Sea and Regional Cooperation and Development held in Singapore, Zhao Qizheng said Tuesday, "Although the Chinese government has dismissed the ill-founded arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Aquino III administration (of The Philippines), China remains open to the Philippines, and disputes in South China Sea shouldn't hamper China-ASEAN relations." Zhao said China fully understood that ASEAN countries have common interests on the whole, and each country in the region has its own interests. China and ASEAN should maintain friendly exchanges, as well as friendly relations. He further stated that China-ASEAN relations should be based on common interests and aim for deepening political communications and enhance cultural exchanges in the future. Li Guoqiang, deputy director of Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, echoed with Zhao's view, saying that ASEAN is the priority of China's diplomacy with neighboring countries. He stressed that China and ASEAN should work together to maintain peace and stability in the region. Qizheng, was quoted by Xinhua news agency, as saying that he was hopeful about China and the Philippines restarting bilateral negotiations on the South China Sea, and moving step-by-step. "China and Philippines can temporarily put aside differences, and discuss issues of joint exploration first," Zhao said. "Joint developments are very broad, including resources, fisheries, maritime rescue, meteorologic data exchange as well as disaster relief at sea. We should move step by step," he added. Organised by the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the one-day seminar attracted more than 20 experts from academic institutes in China and Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia. The government of former Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III filed the arbitration against China in 2013, despite the agreement his country had reached with China on resolving disputes in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiations. Since then, China-Philippines relations have been severely deteriorated. However, current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed readiness and willingness to hold bilateral talks with China, saying that he is planning to send envoy to China to restart negotiations. (ANI with inputs)