Peace and stability in the South China Sea is crucial to the development and prosperity of East Asia. Committed to the "dual-track" approach to the South China Sea issue, China and ASEAN countries have been fully and effectively implementing the DOC. The situation in the South China Sea has been improving overall and the consultations on the COC have been making faster progress.
Last year, the Chinese side proposed working to conclude the COC in three years' time, demonstrating China's greatest sincerity and goodwill to advance the consultations. Guided by such a prospect, our countries have set a common goal of concluding the consultations in 2021 or even earlier. In less than a year, we have completed the first reading ahead of schedule, commenced the second reading, and reached common understandings on the methodology, plan and pathway of the consultations. Such progress is encouraging and should be applauded.
Here I would like to share with you some thoughts on the consultations in the next stage:
First, as a DOC plus, or an upgraded version of the DOC, the COC should be built on the DOC. The consultations on the COC should follow the principles and carry forth the spirit of the DOC, and fully reflect the elements therein as we strive to deliver a more substantive, effective and operable document.
Second, the COC represents important regional rules to be jointly formulated, observed and implemented by China and the ten ASEAN countries. As such, it reflects the common interests and concerns of the 11 parties. We need to further expand consensus and stay focused on handling our own affairs well. With regional realities and needs in mind, we should endeavor to remove distractions, and keep the direction of the COC consultations firmly in our own hands.
Third, the COC is aimed at enhancing trust, boosting cooperation and managing differences. Consistent with this fundamental purpose, it should steer clear of territorial and jurisdictional disputes between countries concerned and serve as an institutional safeguard for peace and stability in the South China Sea. This is a principle we have all agreed to and should always uphold.
Fourth, the COC consultations should be actively taken forward according to the agreed timeline. It is incumbent on all parties to display sincerity, pragmatism and a win-win spirit, and work together for completing the second reading in 2020 to lay solid groundwork for realizing the "three-year target".
The steady and positive progress in the COC consultations over the past few years has been made possible by the concerted efforts of all sides. Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand, as country coordinator and ASEAN Chair, have made important contributions to such progress. China highly appreciates all their efforts. The next two years will be crucial for the consultations. China looks forward to working with all countries around the table in a joint endeavor to realize our common goal. We count on all sides to continue playing their due, constructive role to this end.
Let us take concerted actions to prove our ability to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation and uphold long-term peace, stability and security of our region.
New developments call for a stronger commitment to our strategic partnership. United by a common sense of purpose, China and ASEAN will be able to stand at the forefront of our times and maintain the sound momentum of development. Together, we will deliver greater benefits to our peoples and usher in an even brighter future for East Asia.