China and ASEAN made several breakthroughs on the South China Sea issue on Tuesday, including vowing to finish a framework by the middle of next year for a code of conduct for the sea.
Senior diplomats also approved a guideline for a China and ASEAN hotline for use during maritime emergencies and a joint declaration that the Conduct for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, which was signed by more than 20 Pacific nations in 2014, applies to the South China Sea.
Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin co-chaired the 13th senior officials' meeting on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
He told a joint news conference that documents about the hotline and the conduct for unplanned encounters will be presented to the meeting of leaders from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, scheduled for early September, for final approval.
"There is another achievement — we reached broad consensus on pushing forward the negotiations on a code of conduct for the South China Sea," Liu said.
"All sides agreed to raise the frequency of the negotiations in a situation without interference, and seek to finish a draft framework of the COC by the middle of next year."
The senior officials' meeting has been held twice a year since 2011, but this is the third meeting held this year.
"We held the conference more frequently than in previous years," Liu told reporters after the meeting.
"It shows that as the situation in the South China Sea is getting more and more complicated, especially with the interference of external forces, ASEAN countries and China have realized that we have to grasp the key to the South China Sea issue in our own hand."
He said the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, signed in 2002, provides an effective platform for properly handling disputes through negotiation and cooperation.
Jia Duqiang, a senior researcher in Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Tuesday's achievements are "an important step" in China's relations with ASEAN.
"The frequent meetings between China and the ASEAN countries this year is a good thing — it shows that we both have the willingness to keep the key in our hand," Jia said.
Wang Xiaopeng, a researcher with CASS, said the ASEAN countries are willing to work with China, which has interests intertwined with those of its regional neighbors.
Zhang Yaozhong contributed to this story.