KUALA LUMPUR – China and Southeast Asian nations have agreed to set up a foreign ministers’ hotline to tackle emergencies in the disputed South China Sea, a senior official of the ASEAN grouping said Friday.
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich sea, through which $5 trillion (¥619 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year, and rejects the rival claims of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
With the region having become Asia’s biggest potential military flash point, the United States has urged claimants to settle differences through talks, saying its Pacific Fleet aims to protect sea lanes critical to U.S. trade.
But China rejects U.S. involvement in the dispute, and its more assertive approach recently, including land reclamation and construction on disputed reefs, has stirred tension.
The hotline will be announced at next week’s meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said the senior ASEAN official, who has knowledge of the discussions.