HANOI - China on Wednesday called for an early conclusion of talks on a so-called code of conduct with ASEAN to avert clashes in the South China Sea, as strains between China and the United States over the waters have been intensifying.
By easing tensions with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the sea, Chinese President Xi Jinping's leadership is believed to be attempting to curtail US influence over the waters, home to some of the world's busiest sea lanes, observers say.
China should "finalize" the code of conduct with ASEAN countries as soon as possible to create "a set of rules that reflect the region's characteristics," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during their online foreign ministerial meeting, hosted by Vietnam.
Beijing has conflicting territorial claims with 4 ASEAN members -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- as well as Taiwan in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than one-third of global trade passes.
A code of conduct has long been discussed, with China and the ASEAN nations agreeing in 2002 on a loose set of guidelines known as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
At the summit between China and ASEAN in 2018, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed that the code should be concluded by 2021.
Beijing, meanwhile, has rapidly built artificial islands with military infrastructure in the sea, becoming a major dispute that has exacerbated chilly relations with the United States, which has stepped up its offensive against the Asian power over security issues.
In July, Washington said it is taking a tougher stance against Beijing's maritime assertiveness in the South China Sea, calling its claims to offshore resources across most of the contested waters "completely unlawful."
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.