Sea disputes dominate Asean summit

Sea disputes dominate Asean summit

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea dominated the first day of a meeting of the leaders of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), Philippine President Benigno Aquino said on Thursday.

"Everybody is interested in having a peaceful resolution and also in voicing their concern that there have been increasing sea disputes," he told reporters in a briefing at the Philippine embassy in the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan.

Aquino said Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, chairman of Asean this year, immediately raised the topic of the South China Sea and the need to seek a peaceful resolution to the disputes there during the start of the two-day summit on Wednesday.

He added that as far as the Philippines is concerned, a legally binding code of conduct among countries with overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea would greatly ease tensions that have increased after recurring confrontations in the area.

"There might be a consensus that we have to reach that really pushes the matter forward to really define everybody's entitlements and obligations," he said.

China's claims to most of the maritime area, including several potentially resource-rich island groups, are disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines in January sought an arbitration with China at a United Nations (UN) tribunal over the dispute.

Relations between the Philippines and China were strained last year after a standoff at Scarborough Shoal, which lies within Manila's exclusive economic zone but is claimed by China.

The Asean leaders were expected to issue a statement at the conclusion of the summit later in the day to intensify dialogue with China on the implementation of the non-binding Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China SEA (DOC) which the group adopted in 2002.

"We looked forward to continued engagement with China in implementing the DOC, including joint cooperative activities and projects and for early adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea," according to a draft statement to be issued by the chairman at the end of the summit Thursday.

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