ASEAN has always been a priority for China in its regional diplomacy and a key focus of its Belt & Road Initiative, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Yi on Thursday (July 25), ahead of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Bangkok starting on July 29.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will meet his counterparts at the annual event to discuss promoting regional cooperation in East Asia.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing on Thursday: “China has always attached great importance to the cooperation between China and ASEAN. The two sides have always focused on cooperation and development, and insisted on keeping pace with the times.”

The cooperation covers political, economic, humanities and other fields, she said, and is a banner of East Asian regional cooperation.

The relationship between China and ASEAN is now entering “a new stage of upgrading”, with greater opportunity for development, said Ms Hua.

She added that China is willing to work with ASEAN on Belt & Road projects and develop a stronger strategic partnership.

The Belt and Road Initiative is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious project to develop a sort of modern-day Silk Road.

Ms Hua also reassured ASEAN over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, saying that Beijing was “willing to work with ASEAN to continue to properly handle the South China Sea issue, strengthen pragmatic cooperation at sea, and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability”.

Both sides have been working on establishing a Code of Conduct that outline the norms and rules relating to the disputed waters. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had said last November that Beijing hopes to complete negotiations on the code within three years.