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World News

Vietnam says China military drills could harm maritime code talks

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam said on Thursday that military drills conducted this week by Beijing in the South China Sea will hurt negotiations on a regional maritime code of conduct (COC) for the disputed waters.

The exercises could complicate efforts to restart talks on a long-awaited code between China and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang told a regular briefing.

China on Monday began five military exercises simultaneously along different parts of its coast, including two exercises near Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam.

“The resumption of code of conduct (COC) negotiations after a long pause because of the (coronavirus) pandemic is the priority of ASEAN countries and China,” Hang said.

Vietnam shared that priority and “looks forward to “concluding the COC in an effective, comprehensive way”, in line with international law, Hang said.

China, which has for years been locked in maritime disputes with other coastal states in the South China Sea, has in recent months boosted its presence and held exercises in disputed parts of the strategic waterway, at a time when other claimants are battling coronavirus outbreaks.

The United States has accused China of bullying its neighbours, while Beijing says Washington and its Western allies have been interfering and endangering security by sending naval vessels to the region.

In August, Vietnam said the presence of Chinese bombers on the Paracel islands “jeopardises peace”.

Hang said on Thursday that Vietnam demanded that China respect its sovereignty and does not repeat such drills in the area.

The COC has been a stated goal of ASEAN and China for nearly two decades, but regional security experts have questioned China’s sincerity towards concluding it and doubted whether a legally binding agreement can be forged.

Reporting by Phuong Nguyen; Writing by Khanh Vu; Editing by Ed Davies, Martin Petty

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