Wednesday, April 10, 2013

ASEAN plans to issue statement on South China Sea

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): ASEAN plans to issue statement on South China Sea

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association Southeast Asian Nations are discussing the possibility of issuing a statement specifically on resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea during their meeting this week, ASEAN officials said Wednesday.

If the idea pushes through, it would mark the first time for the grouping to issue a joint statement on the contentious issue involving China and some ASEAN states since tension over the disputes escalated in recent years.

Senior officials of ASEAN have crafted the statement but they were unable to determine if it should be issued at the ministerial level or at a higher level since ASEAN leaders are scheduled to gather later this month in the Brunei capital for their annual talks.

ASEAN foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue at their working dinner here on Wednesday and also at their meeting on Thursday to prepare for an upcoming annual ASEAN summit slated for April 24-25.

Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Thailand's permanent secretary of the Foreign Ministry, said ASEAN had agreed at the senior officials level on the content of the South China Sea statement and that it is most likely to be issued by the ASEAN leaders later this month.

According to the latest draft seen by Kyodo News, it is prepared as a joint statement of ASEAN foreign ministers on the "way forward" on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Sihasak stressed the need to maintain "positive momentum" by exploring the possibility of getting the process toward a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea started at an early stage.

Sihasak admitted there is still a difference between ASEAN and China on the code of conduct process. China prefers the process to begin at a nongovernmental level while ASEAN countries are aiming at a process that involves senior officials from both sides.

The top Thai bureaucrat was optimistic that a compromise could be eventually reached.

Thailand is currently a country coordinator for ASEAN in conducting relations with China.

While ASEAN is eager to commence formal talks with China on a code of conduct as early as possible, Beijing has been reluctant to establish a binding code of conduct with other claimant states.

It favors a looser set of guidelines for the implementation of the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea, which was agreed to by ASEAN and China in 2002 to ensure the peaceful resolution of disputes in strategic sea lanes.

The latest draft statement also states ASEAN's solidarity, unity and centrality are keys to maintaining peace, stability, to enhancing maritime security and to ensuring peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea.

Last July, ASEAN foreign ministers failed to issue a joint communique at the end of their annual meeting in Cambodia for the first time in the association's 45-year history. The failure stemmed from an inability to forge a consensus on how or even whether to refer in the document to maritime disputes involving China and several ASEAN member states in the South China Sea.

To resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Beijing has been calling for bilateral negotiations with other claimants, rather than multilateral diplomacy.

All or parts of the South China Sea, which contains some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and is believed to be rich in oil and gas, are claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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