Asean urges restraint in South China Sea row

Asean urges restraint in South China Sea row
Myanmar President U Thein Sein, ASEAN leaders attended the Plenary Session of the 24th ASEAN SUMMIT 2014.

The standoff between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea continued to dominate the 24th ASEAN summit for a second day, with the 10-member bloc urging restraint to prevent an escalation of tensions that could lead to armed conflict.

Southeast Asian leaders discussed the issue at length yesterday, during the bi-annual leaders meeting, hosted by Myanmar for the first time.

Earlier this week, Hanoi accused Chinese vessels of ramming its ships after Beijing installed an oil rig well within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone.

China claims sovereign rights to more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea, overlapping with the territorial claims of several ASEAN members, namely Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

"This is the first time China unilaterally brings and installs its oil rig deep into the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone of an ASEAN country, which gravely violates the international law [and an ASEAN-China agreement on the South China Sea]," Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told his counterparts at the summit.

"This extremely dangerous action has been and is directly threatening peace, stability and maritime security and safety."

On Saturday, ASEAN foreign ministers expressed "serious concerns" over the incident and urged China to fast-track negotiations with the bloc to draft a code of conduct in the sea.

But in response, Beijing downplayed any discord with ASEAN, accusing certain countries, without naming any, of trying to stir up trouble.

"The Chinese side is always opposed to one or two countries' attempts to use the South Sea issue to harm the overall friendship and cooperation between China and the ASEAN," said a foreign ministry spokesperson.

However, Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, said this criticism was "misplaced".

"On the diplomatic track (between ASEAN and China) the situation is quite encouraging... But on the ground, or at sea, the situation is totally disconnected by the diplomatic pathway," he told reporters in Naypyidaw.

During the leaders' meeting, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong echoed the sentiments of foreign ministers that ASEAN should have a common position on the issue.

A divided ASEAN, he said, undermines the group's credibility and relevance to the world.

AP adds: Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, meanwhile, said he intended to raise his country's own territorial dispute with Beijing at the summit, while calling for support to resolve the conflict through international arbitration.

ASEAN leaders also discussed tensions on the Korean Peninsula, reiterating their commitment to a region "free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction," according to a draft of the final statement.

They also discussed the need to effectively tackle threats such as cybercrime, human trafficking and climate change, as well as food and energy security, human rights issues and efforts to create an ASEAN economic community.

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