ASEAN urges engagement in S China Sea disputes

Updated: 2013-07-01 00:50


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BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN - The foreign ministers of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said on Sunday that they saw the need to maintain the positive momentum in the interaction between ASEAN countries and China over the disputes in the South China Sea.

The statement of encouraging China-ASEAN engagement was included in a joint communique issued after a meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers in Bandar Seri Begawan, where Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario launched a surprising, if not deliberately bizarre, accusation of militarization of the South China Sea.

Rosario voiced "serious concern over the increasing militarization of the South China Sea," despite the fact that about 1,000 soldiers from the Philippines and the United States are staging a joint exercise in the South China Sea.

The joint communique mainly focused on the efforts of the ASEAN to push for the building of an ASEAN Community by the end of 2015 and improve interconnectivity among the member states, including a plan for a common visa.

It also touched on some of the hot issues including the South China Sea disputes.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam described the closed-door discussions as being positive and constructive.

The issuing of the joint communique helped avoid a repeat of the embarrassing failure to produce a joint statement at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh last year as the Philippines tried to force contents related to its island disputes with China into the joint statement.

Shanmugam said that what the ASEAN wants is for the competing sovereign claims to be dealt with in a manner that is peaceful and in accordance with international law.

"The specific claims, who owns what, whether it's Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, that is not something that non-claimant states like Singapore can get involved," he said.

The ASEAN said in the joint communique that it "appreciated the exchange of views on the issues including initiatives and approaches to enhance trust, confidence and dialogue, and address incidents in the South China Sea."

"We underscored the importance of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), ASEAN's Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea, and the ASEAN-China Joint Statement on the 10th anniversary of the DOC," it said.

China and ASEAN concluded the DOC in 2002 and have been pushing for efforts to start talks on a Code of Conduct.

Shanmugam said China has told its ASEAN neighbors that it believes in peaceful co-existence and development and being a partner in peace.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is in Brunei for a meeting with ASEAN counterparts, said later today that China's new leadership is committed to continuously consolidating and deepening the strategic partnership with the ASEAN and adheres to friendly consultations to properly handle its problems with some ASEAN countries.