Quick resolution on South China Sea disputes sought

KOTA KINABALU - ASEAN wants quick settlement in any dispute between member states and China in the South China Sea.

For a start, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said the regional grouping was seeking to increase the frequency of its meetings with China to resolve any dispute.

The foreign ministers, during their two-day retreat here, had asked Thailand to be the coordinating country for more meetings with China, he said.

"We have a very good relationship with China and ASEAN speaks with one voice - we solve problems through moderation and dialogue," he said.

ASEAN, he said, had also asked its senior officials to intensify efforts towards the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

"They should work vigorously towards an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea," he said, adding that resolving disputes was crucial as the area was one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

"Resolving these issues is not only important and relevant to ASEAN members but also to the world for freedom of navigation and safe passage.

"China is a very important trading partner and we are very appreciative of the cooperation between China and ASEAN."

He added that the ministers had also reaffirmed that territorial disputes be resolved amicably under international laws.

The ministers, he said, also shared their concerns about reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

In a statement, the Philippines urged ASEAN to collectively respond to what it called China's "continuing reclamation activities".

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said the massive reclamation not only threatened peace, stability and freedom, but presented a strategic policy dilemma for ASEAN.

"Our inaction on this will undermine the principle of centrality since we are unable to address, in a unified and collective way, such a critical issue in our own backyard," he said after the retreat.

ASEAN as a regional force, he said, should consider reaching out to the responsible international community.

"We should be saying to China that what it is doing is wrong and that it must stop its reclamation activities at once," he added.