ASEAN Seeks Agreement on South China Sea

As the meeting for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations begins, foreign officials are pursuing a long term solution for the competition over the South China Sea. The Voice of America reports:

It may be a sign of the urgency that ASEAN officials now feel on the issue that Cambodian PrimeMinister Hun Sen opened this week’s ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting Monday by stressing the need for a a consensus on how to resolve the territorial dispute.

“We should put emphasis on the implementation of the declaration of conduct, including the eventual conclusion of the code of conduct in the South China Sea,” said the prime minister.

ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia all claim territory in the South China Sea. That puts them up against powerhouse China, which has claimed essentially all of the body of water.

China and Asean signed a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea a decade ago – essentially agreeing they must resolve the situation peacefully. But it has taken this long to come to terms on how to proceed to the next stage – crafting a code of conduct which would guide the parties as the issue moves forward.

Recent tensions between China, the Philippines, and Vietnam have put maritime disputes at the top of the agenda for the meeting, and officials are claiming that garnering China’s support for a solution is a key element. From the BBC:

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that it was willing to discuss the code of conduct.

“When conditions are ripe China would like to discuss with Asean countries the formulation of the COC [code of conduct]," spokesman Liu Weimin said.

But Asean members are divided over what to do. The four affected countries want action but others, like Cambodia, are recipients of Chinese aid and investment, and reluctant to rock the boat, says the BBC's Guy DeLauney.

Asean was set up in 1967 by Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Brunei joined in 1984, followed by Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Burma in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.

Aside from China and the Southeast Asian nations, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has also addressed the conflict, according to the Wall Street Journal:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Southeast Asia this week was expected to put a spotlight on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, as well as the growing significance of a relatively new actor in the region's power plays: tiny, landlocked Laos.

Mrs. Clinton met with Vietnamese leaders Tuesday, reaffirming commercial and political ties between the two countries. Washington and Hanoi have grown especially close over the past few years as Vietnam has grown more wary of efforts by China, its northern neighbor, to project influence across Southeast Asia, especially in the resource-rich South China Sea, parts of which are jointly claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries.

"Vietnam has emerged as a leader in the Lower Mekong sub-region and in Southeast Asia, where the United States and Vietnam share strategic interests," Mrs. Clinton said at a briefing after meeting with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.

Mr. Minh said he and Mrs. Clinton agreed Tuesday that territorial disputes in the South China Sea must be addressed peacefully, based on international laws.

Although China has agreed to discuss the dispute over the South China Sea, they have also warned the Southeast Asian nations against “hyping” the dispute. AFP adds:

As the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations discussed forming a united position on the sensitive issue during a summit in Cambodia, China insisted the dispute should only be resolved directly between rival claimants.

"This South China Sea issue is not an issue between China and ASEAN, but between China and some ASEAN countries," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.

"Hyping the South China Sea issue... is against the common aspirations of the people and the main trends of the time to seek development and cooperation, and is an attempt to take China-ASEAN relations hostage."

But Liu said Beijing did not want the issue raised when ASEAN foreign ministers met their colleagues from China, the United States, Japan and other countries during the ASEAN Regional Forum starting in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

While the South China Sea is on the top of the ASEAN agenda, the BBC also reported that North Korea rockets and Myanmar are also key issues in the meeting.

July 10, 2012 10:54 AM
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