Duterte: China warns of possible war with PHL over contested islands

Until recently, progress has been slow amid disputes over the body of water that China claims virtually in its entirety.

The talks had been candid and deep and made positive achievements, it added. "We avoid violence and we avoid war because frankly, we can not afford it, and China can not afford it also at this time".

All parties "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", the official Chinese statement released on Thursday noted.

For the 10 ASEAN member states, meanwhile, the agreement offers a chance to freeze further Chinese advances in the region at a time when the Trump administration has turned its focus away from the region with the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other developments, Huang said. Liu, however, when asked by reporters if the framework would be binding, noted that he could not give a definite answer.

"What's new are the references to incident prevention and management, and establishing mechanisms to monitor the COC's implementation", Storey said.

"If it is legally binding, which court can the parties go to?"

"No matter what the final draft agreement looks like, the devil will be in working out the details", said Storey, foreseeing a long, hard negotiation on the final document. Beijing expresses strong opposition whenever U.S. naval ships pass through the area, even though it maintains there is no threat to freedom of navigation.

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He cautioned that the draft framework is an "internal document and nobody should publish it".

Thursday's meeting on the framework on the CoC was co-chaired by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and Singapore's Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Chee Wee Kiong. No date was given for the adoption of a full code of conduct.

"In addition to and without prejudice to other mechanisms, a bilateral consultation mechanism can be useful, which will meet regularly on current and other issues of concern to either side on the South China Sea".

A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea, March 29, 2014.

Duterte said during the Philippine Coastguard Auxiliary National Convention in Davao City that Xi had insisted on the Asian giant's centuries-old claim to the vast South China Sea as against a recent tribunal ruling. In the recent months, tension over the SCS abated after new Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte scaled down Manila's emphasis on its SCS claims even after it won an global tribunal award past year.

Duterte, who began his six-year term in June last year, agreed to take a soft stance with China, claiming that if he did it might lead to war.

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