Washington, August 8: Australia, Japan and the United States have urged South-East Asian countries and China to draw up a South China Sea code of conduct. The countries asked the ASEAN to finalize a legally binding code and asked China to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts and militarization of disputed features. China has been overly aggressive in their expansion in the South China Sea.
Foreign ministers of ASEAN and China on Sunday adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.
They urged claimants to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts and militarization of disputed features, a veiled reference to China's expansion of its defense capability on Mischief, Fiery Cross and Subi reefs in the Spratly archipelago.
The three countries are not claimants but have long been vocal on the issue, arguing their interest is in ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.
India is keen to keep the maritime lanes open in the South China Sea, which is a major gateway for shipping in East Asia with a major portion of its trade with the Asia Pacific transiting through the sea.
They urged China and the Philippines to abide by last year's international arbitration ruling, which invalidated China's claim to almost the entire South China Sea, where more than $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods passes every year.
Earlier, China has opened a modern cinema theatre on Yongxing Island in the disputed South China Sea. The state media reported that this is part of China's plan to establish authority over the area.
One of the world's most valuable trade corridors, the South China Seas is a hotbed of contemporary geopolitical dispute. A U.S. warship sailed by nearby Triton Island earlier this month in an operation meant to challenge China's claims on the region, according to the Defense Department.
China has been expanding its territory aggressively, encouraging population settlements in the disputed areas. It was the second "freedom-of-navigation operation" during the presidency of Donald Trump. Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines all have similar territorial disputes with China over other parts of the region.