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China mum on supporting legally binding South China Sea code

Chinese structures and an airstrip on the man-made Subi Reef at the Spratlys group of islands are shown from the Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane of the Philippine Air Force during the visit to the Philippine-claimed Thitu Island by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Ano and other officials off the disputed South China Sea in western Philippines Friday, April 21, 2017. The South China Sea issue is expected to be discussed at the 20th ASEAN Summit of Leaders next week. Francis Malasig/Pool Photo via AP

MANILA, Philippines — Asked if Beijing is willing to support a legally-binding and enforceable Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea, the Chinese Foreign Ministry only said that a framework will be finished by June.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that the situation in the disputed waters is cooling down following joint efforts of China and Southeast Asian countries.

"According to my knowledge, China and ASEAN have agreed to seek to conclude the consultation on the draft of a COC framework by the first half of this year," Geng said in a press briefing Wednesday.

Geng stressed that a COC is the "right track" in resolving the maritime dispute.

"The relevant parties have returned to the right track of resolving disputes through negotiations and consultations, and are fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) as well as actively advancing the consultation on a COC," Geng said.

However, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), under Philippine chairmanship this year, is likely to go soft on the sea row.

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READ: ASEAN leaders likely to go soft on sea feud in Manila summit

According to reports, a draft of the chairman's statement for the 30th ASEAN Summit did not mention China's island-building activities or the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal invalidating Beijing's expansive maritime claims.

The draft statement only expressed serious concerns "by some leaders" over the "escalation of activities in the area."

"We shared the serious concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region," the draft statement said.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has expressed disappointment over the statement's treatment of the South China Sea developments.

Del Rosario has been urging the Philippine government to assert effective leadership in the ASEAN by bringing up the arbitral award.

"The draft of the Chairman's Statement is deeply disappointing and, if not revisited, would manifest an absence of the desired leadership," Del Rosario said in a statement released Wednesday.

The retired Foreign Affairs Secretary led the Philippines in filing the arbitration case against China's nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters.

RELATED: ASEAN countries urged to draft sea code, pressure China

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