ASEAN and Chinese Foreign Ministers to Meet Over South China Sea Claims

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Apr. 30 – In the aftermath of the ASEAN summit in Brunei, it appears that conscious steps have been taken to make progress towards lowering tensions in the South China Sea, with China proposing a meeting with ASEAN Foreign Ministers to discuss a code of conduct governing the area. ASEAN has long wanted to confront China as a united front to be able to more forcefully voice its claims, while China has preferred to discuss the topic bilaterally with each individual claimant state.

“The meeting between ASEAN foreign affairs ministers and Chinese foreign affairs minister has been scheduled in August or September this year in Beijing,” said Le Luong Minh, Secretary-General of ASEAN.

Speaking to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, he said that the goal of the meeting will be to conclude a of a code of conduct on the basis of consensus.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters at a meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Brunei that although an exact date has yet to be set, the planned meeting underscored the importance of making “progress on the code of conduct and to maintain a positive atmosphere in the South China Sea.”

Tensions have been rising in the area over the past few years, with the Philippines and Vietnam both accusing China of aggressively pursuing its claims. China claims nearly all of the sea, which is an important waterway for international trade, while the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan claim various parts of the same area.

China and ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002, pledging that the disputes of signing parties would be resolved peacefully, and that parties would not act in ways that threaten peace and stability. The declaration, however, has failed to prevent several standoffs between ASEAN claimants and Chinese vessels, spurring calls for a legally binding code of conduct to govern dispute resolution in the waters.

Minister Natalegawa further stated that ASEAN’s self-restraint had been tested by “unilateral action to try to change [the] situation.”

“Enough is enough,” he affirmed.


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