Tough negotiations lie ahead over a new pact between China and Southeast Asian nations aimed at easing tensions in the South China Sea, as Vietnam pushes for provisions likely to prove unpalatable to Beijing, documents reviewed by Reuters suggest.
Hanoi wants the pact to outlaw many of the actions China has carried out across the hotly disputed waterway in recent years, including artificial island building, blockades and offensive weaponry such as missile deployments, according to a negotiating draft of the ASEAN Code of Conduct (COC) seen by Reuters.
The draft also shows Hanoi is pushing for a ban on any new Air Defence Identification Zone - something Beijing unilaterally announced over the East China Sea in 2013. Chinese officials have not ruled out a similar move, in which all aircraft are supposed to identify themselves to Chinese authorities, over the South China Sea.
Hanoi is also demanding states clarify their maritime claims in the vital trade route according to international law - an apparent attempt to shatter the controversial "nine-dash line" by which China claims and patrols much of the South China Sea, the draft shows.
"Going forward, there will be some very testy exchanges between the Vietnamese and China in particular over the text of this agreement," said Singapore-based Ian Storey, a veteran South China Sea expert, who has seen the draft.
"Vietnam is including those points or activities that they want forbidden by the Code of Conduct precisely because China has been carrying these out for the last 10 years."
Le Thi Thu Hang, a spokeswoman at the Vietnam Foreign Ministry, said negotiations on the Code of Conduct had made some progress recently, with Vietnam actively participating and other countries showing "their constructive and cooperative spirit".
"Vietnam wishes related countries to continue their efforts and make a positive contribution to the negotiation process in order to achieve a substantive and effective COC in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, contributing to the maintenance of peace, stability and security in the East Sea (South China Sea) in particular and in the region in general," she said.
Singapore's Foreign Ministry, the chair of the 10-nation ASEAN bloc for 2018, did not respond to a request for comment.
"We cannot comment right now but Thailand certainly supports discussion on the single negotiating draft," said Busadee Santipitaks, a spokeswoman for Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which takes over as ASEAN chair in the new year.