Ministers ink pact to defuse S China Sea tensions

Ministers ink pact to defuse S China Sea tensions

Asean defence ministers have agreed to work together to turn the South China Sea into a "sea of peace and stability", said Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.

Gen Prawit made the remark at the 13th Asean Defence Ministerial Meeting (ADMM) in Bangkok, where security issues -- including the South China Sea dispute and North Korea -- ranked high on the agenda.

The deputy premier said the ministers agreed that it is necessary to maintain peace and ensure freedom and safety of passage through the South China Sea -- both for ships and aircraft flying over the disputed waters. However, they didn't say how they proposed to achieve this.

Gen Prawit said that Asean's defence ministers agreed to work together to ensure that the South China Sea becomes a "sea of peace and stability", as it would help ensure the region can grow and develop in a sustainable fashion.

Last year, the armed forces of Asean members conducted joint sea drills with China to foster trust and strengthen military ties. This year, the drills will include the United States.

Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said the South China Sea row is high on the agenda because it affects regional stability, as some Asean members are involved in the dispute.

According to a draft of the joint declaration, which will be issued after the meetings conclude, the ministers reaffirmed their stance and called on concerned parties to resolve the sea dispute by peaceful means in accordance with international laws.

On the issue of North Korea, Asean is hoping for the further easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, following the latest meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to Lt Gen Kongcheep.

Gen Prawit, meanwhile, said the meeting stressed the importance of reinforcing trust between member countries to stave off any possibility of a confrontation that may complicate the region's security dynamics.

Six documents were adopted by at the 13th ADMM, including an agreement to expand Asean Direct Communications Infrastructure and the establishment of the Asean Military Medicine Conference.

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