Like in a previous meeting in Laos, the draft framework contains only the elements and is not the final, legally binding document, but the conclusion of the framework could be considered a milestone among the competing countries that include (aside from the Philippines and China) Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Taiwan.
"Beijing's task has been made easier because the Philippines holds the (Asean) chair this year".
Vietnam, the most determined critic of China on the issue, had insisted during two days of negotiations that ASEAN insist the code be legally binding, arguing otherwise it would be meaningless.
China claims almost all of the strategically vital sea, including waters approaching the coasts of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
The long-seething disputes in the South China Sea, alarm over North Korea's missile tests and the rise of Islamic radicalism in the region amid a deadly siege by Islamic State group-linked militants in the southern Philippines are expected to grab the spotlight in the meetings of ASEAN foreign ministers and their Asian and Western counterparts in Manila starting Saturday.
Analysts and some Asean diplomats worry that China's sudden support for negotiating a code of conduct is a ploy to buy time to further boost its military capability.
As China and ASEAN celebrate the 15th anniversary of strategic partnership next year, both sides are also facing a critical point to bring the ties to a higher level, Wang said, calling for future actions to build a higher level China-ASEAN strategic partnership and a closer community of common destiny of China and ASEAN.
The agreed two-page framework is broad and leaves wide scope for disagreement, urging a commitment to the "purposes and principles" of UNCLOS, for example, rather than adherence.
"I personally believe that this is a result of the win-win policy and success of ASEAN-China prudent and lasting relationship", Matthews said.
While some have dismissed the framework as another attempt to move the goalposts in the definitive South China Sea COC negotiations, the framework represents a breakthrough for ASEAN centrality, which has been on display since a meeting in Bali earlier this year decided on the creation of a "zero draft".
China has always taken ASEAN as a priority in its foreign diplomacy and has always supported ASEAN in taking a central role in regional cooperation and a bigger role in dealing with worldwide and regional affairs, he said.
The 2002 document was more strongly worded against China. "That has no basis in global law".
Sovereign rights cover entitlements to fish and extract natural resources.
Opposition by China has repeatedly disrupted Vietnam's efforts to exploit offshore energy reserves, most recently in an area overlapping what Beijing considers its oil concessions.
Amid China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and on border disputes with neighbours, India on Sunday said that the 10-nation Asean bloc plays a central role in the security of the Asia-Pacific region.
Among the topics of immediate concern are the South China Sea, North Korea and Muslim militants.
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