NAYPYITAW - ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Myanmar's capital have agreed on the need for progress on the long-delayed Code of Conduct (COC) to avoid conflict in the South China Sea.
"There has been consensus on trying to move on the COC," Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters on the sidelines of the 47th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Naypyitaw yesterday.
"Senior officials have been meeting both among ASEAN and with China," said Mr Shanmugam.
"China has said it wants to see some movement before the end of the year and has talked about low-hanging fruits, and the ministers today discussed and said let's try and catch the momentum."
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by four ASEAN countries, most crucially Vietnam and the Philippines. There have been confrontations at sea, raising fears of conflict.
"Quite a few countries felt that last year, there were a number of incidents and it is a miracle that there were not even more serious incidents," Mr Shanmugam said. "It is in everyone's interest now to try and make sure that we contain them and move in a way that is acceptable to everyone."
Chinese and ASEAN officials are to work out the specifics of the "low-hanging fruit" that Beijing wants to propose.
Meanwhile, Manila has proposed a three-stage moratorium on activities in the South China Sea.
"One good thing that we know is that our concerns are being shared by other ASEAN member countries," Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Charles Jose told reporters yesterday.
"They also recognise the exacerbating tension in the region and that we should take all measures that would de-escalate and manage the tensions to create the atmosphere that would lead to an eventual resolution of the dispute."