Thursday, 17 August, 2017

Asean urges non-militarisation in South China Sea

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho walks toward an escalator during ongoing meetings at the Philippine International Convention Center for the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting and Related Meetings in Manila Philippines Aug.t 7 2017. (Rol China calls for halt to US THAAD deployment in S.Korea
Juana Turner | 09 August, 2017, 00:08

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers have opened a regional meeting in the Philippines capital Manila, expressing grave concern on Saturday about rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and Asean members like the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

"That is important, as that term ensures that the South China Sea remains open to the commercial interests of all states".

Wang told a news conference in Manila that those conditions include non-interference by "outside parties", apparently referring to the United States, which Beijing has frequently accused of meddling in what it says is an Asian dispute that should be resolved only by the countries involved.

The gathering comes after the United Nations Security Council adopted a fresh sanctions resolution against the North for its two intercontinental ballistic missile launches last month.

"When most companies and investors think of Asean, they typically think of mega-cities such as Jakarta, Manila, and Bangkok".

"There's still no consensus", one of the diplomats said, adding the disagreements over the wordings on the sea issue were holding up the release of the communique.

China has used land reclamation to build up islands and construct airports to back its claim of much of the waters off its coast.

'We further reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with worldwide law, ' the statement said.

Robespierre Bolivar, spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs, described the initial progress after years of efforts by Southeast Asian countries to negotiate a code of conduct with China "as a very big step".

While China agrees with sanctions on the North, Wang, the Chinese Foreign Minister, said yesterday that they should be aimed at forcing Pyongyang to return to negotiations directed at taming its nuclear ambitions.

Bolivar refused to give further details but reiterated that the Philippines' position on the framework of the code of conduct was "preferably for a legally-binding document". Singapore's three-year term as country coordinator of Asean-China relations began in 2015.

China has called for a resumption of talks on the Korean Peninsula and urged North Korea not to provoke the worldwide community after the UN Security Council voted to impose its toughest sanctions yet on Pyongyang. Those concerns have appeared in previous ASEAN joint statements.

The draft copy of the COC was "not an instrument to settle territorial disputes or maritime delimitation issues" as it would be "rules-based", containing "a set of norms to guide the conduct of parties and promote maritime cooperation in the South China Sea".

China's decision this year to place a temporary halt on coal imports from North Korea - even as exports rose - appeared to have little impact beyond highlighting the limits of Beijing's influence over its neighbour.

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