Southeast Asia's top diplomat warned on Friday of great anxiety over China's plan to board and search ships that illegally enter what it considers its territory in the disputed South China Sea saying it could spark naval clashes and undermine confidence in the region's economy.
Seeking to ease alarm over the issue China said it attached "great importance" to freedom of navigation in waters that have some of the world s busiest shipping lanes.
New rules that take effect on Jan. 1 will allow police in the southern Chinese province of Hainan to board and seize control of foreign ships which "illegally enter" Chinese waters the official China Daily said on Thursday.
Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Chinese plan was a "very serious turn of events".
"It certainly has increased a level of concern and a level of great anxiety among all parties particularly parties that would need the access the passage and the freedom to go through," Surin told Reuters by telephone from Thailand.
China wants to join hands with India
Beijing may have its differences with New Delhi but China wants to join hands with India to develop Nepal which is lagging behind the two much bigger neighbours.
China thinks instead of bilateral mechanisms to achieve that goal, trilateral cooperation among all three countries would be beneficial not just for Nepal but for the region as well.
"We would like to have more cooperation with India to support Nepal's development. We are positive about this kind of trilateral cooperation," China's ambassador to Nepal Yang Houlan said here on Friday.
(With Reuters inputs)