Phnom Penh July 10, 2012 1:00 am
They urged concerned parties in the region to exercise self-restraint and not seek to use force to “solve” territorial disputes.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who presided over the opening of the annual meeting of Asean ministers yesterday, urged them to give emphasis to working toward a code of conduct as a durable accord to solve disputes peacefully.
In their meeting, the ministers affirmed their resolve to work promptly toward a code of conduct for the South China Sea, to try to ensure peace, stability, security and cooperation in the area.
However, Asean has a very long way to go before a code of conduct can be agreed on for the South China Sea – as it was really difficult for ministers to overcome even minor differences.
And while Asean states push for a code, China has been cool to the idea.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said the country was willing to discuss a code of conduct with Asean “when conditions mature”.
Officials spent hours yesterday to discuss whether they should mention in their joint communique specific situations and incidents of conflict that took place recently between China, the Philippines and Vietnam over the Scarborough Shoal and “exclusive economic zones”.
Officials inside the meeting said there were differences between representatives from Cambodia and the Philippines on the way to address the particular issue in Asean documents.
The Philippines tried to put the case of a recent stand-off between Chinese and Philippine ships in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in a joint communique to be issued after the ministerial meeting, while Cambodia did not want this.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea have undermined relations between China and many members of Asean for years.
Beijing claims most major areas in the sea which are believed to have abundant oil resources, while the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei also claim these areas.
Asean has struggled for a long time to draw up a code of conduct with China covering the sea as a guideline for conduct in such areas.
The group and Beijing signed a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002 but the document is non-binding. DOC, as it is known, refers mainly to cooperation on the environment and maritime research. It is not regarded as a mechanism to provide sustainable settlement of disputes.
But as an existing accord that Asean has with China, Hun Sen felt members states should emphasise implementation of DOC, while seeking to eventually draw up a code of conduct for the sea.
Thailand, as a coordinator between Asean and China, would try to set up talks to help draw up a code of conduct, Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said.
Asean and China would begin to explore elements for the code when representatives meet in Phnom Penh in September, he said.
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