China has agreed to begin formal talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a proposed regional code of conduct in maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, The Nikkei reports.

China is not a member of the ASEAN but claims most of the South China Sea, which coincides with different claims by some members of the regional group. Among disputed territories are the Spratlys Islands, Paracel Islands, and Scarborough Shoal. Members have been concerned of China’s aggressiveness in claiming the islands. Just this month, China “vehemently opposed” Vietnam’s maritime law which lay sovereignty claims over the Spratlys. Both engaged in a perceived show of strength, with patrol vessels in the area, as China’s standoff with the Philippines in the Scarborough Shoal eased down.

The ASEAN identified “key elements” in negotiations with China on a “more binding protocol” to govern behavior of claimants in the South China Sea. It is not clear whether the code will include the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal. ASEAN hopes the code will “create a favorable environment for peaceful settlement of disputes, and encourage efforts to clarify disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea”.