Territorial disputes high on Asean agenda

Territorial disputes high on Asean agenda

Members to lay out South China Sea stance

Matters related to the disputes in the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula will be discussed at the 35th Asean Summit and Related Summits in Thailand this weekend.

The drafts of key documents for the upcoming 35th Asean Summit and the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS) acquired by the Bangkok Post, suggest the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and respective dialogue partners would note concerns on the land reclamation activities in the area and reaffirm 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.

The Asean Summit and Related Summits are scheduled to take place in Muang Thong Thani from Saturday to Monday.

Besides the 10 Asean members, the EAS will include Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea as well as Russia and the US.

China and the five countries that have conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea, including Asean members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, have been moving ahead in negotiations for a code of conduct aimed at reducing the potential for armed conflict.

A chapter concerning regional and international issues indicates the leaders will warmly welcome the continued improving cooperation between Asean and China and are encouraged by the progress in the negotiations towards a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

The EAS leaders will also reaffirm the importance of upholding international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law Of the Sea (Unclos), the draft document says.

According to these documents, and also a key document for the 22nd Asean Plus Three Summit, the leaders will stress the importance of continued peaceful dialogue, and welcome the efforts of the Republic of Korea, the United States and China to establish a sustainable dialogue with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea towards a denuclearised Korean Peninsula.

On the issue of the South China Sea, US diplomat David R Stilwell said this month that China's ruling Communist Party is pursuing a "repressive alternative vision" for the region that seeks to reorder it in its favour and has put Beijing "in a position of strategic competition with all who seek to preserve a free and open order of sovereign nations within a rules-based order".

If China uses it to "legitimise its egregious behaviour and unlawful maritime claims, "a code of conduct would be harmful to the region and freedom of the seas", Mr Stilwell said in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Meanwhile, China's foreign ministry says an ocean survey ship, whose presence in waters claimed by Vietnam drew protests, has completed its mission.

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said last Thursday that Ocean Geology No.8 had undertaken "scientific research operations in waters under China's jurisdiction of the South China Sea", which began in early July and were now completed.

The ship, whose Chinese name is Haiyang Dizhi 8, had been escorted by armed coast guard vessels as it operated in the area of Vanguard Reef in the Spratly Island chain that is claimed by both China and Vietnam.

Tensions over oil exploration and access to resources in the South China Sea have been particularly acute between Vietnam and China.

Last week, China's defence minister took a hard line on territorial claims in a fiery address to the Xiangshan Forum on defence in Beijing.

"We will not relinquish a single inch of territory passed down from our forefathers," Wei Fenghe told the gathering.

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