DFA: ASEAN ministers agreed on legally binding sea code

Filipino motorcycle police officers stand in front of the venue of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting and in Manila on Wednesday. — Reuters

Criticising ongoing "land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarisation of disputed features" in the disputed sea, the trio said any code of conduct must be "legally binding, meaningful and effective", a demand noticeably absent from the ASEAN statement.

The South China Sea has always been the most divisive issue for the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), with China's influence looming large over its activities.

China's territorial disputes in the strategic and potentially oil- and gas-rich waterway with Taiwan and ASEAN member states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam intensified after Beijing built islands in the disputed waters in recent years and reportedly started to install a missile defense system on them, alarming rival claimant states as well as the USA and other Western governments.

As an important regional organization, ASEAN has become a major force in promoting regional integration and maintaining regional peace and stability, Wang said. "And we will work out regional rules that we mutually agreed upon so as to open up a bright future for our future relations".

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned any interference from "outside parties" could jeopardise negotiations over the code of conduct. Under the circumstances, Kono called for the ASEAN members' cooperation for a peaceful solution to the South China Sea issues, by explaining Japan's position at Sunday's meeting, sources with access to the talks said.

"There's still no consensus", one of the diplomats said earlier in the day, adding the disagreements over the wordings on the sea issue were holding up the release of the communique.

The meetings will be attended by Ministers from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries - Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam.

The Philippines, which serves as ASEAN chairman this year, called the conclusion of talks between China and ASEAN to finalize the framework "a very big step".

The meetings in Manila, hosted by the Philippines, this year's holder of the ASEAN chair, took place on the eve of the ASEAN Regional Forum, an annual security meeting bringing together 27 countries.

The US and other nations have tested Beijing's claims by conducting "freedom of navigation" operations around islands controlled by China.

The Philippines scored a major legal victory a year ago, when an global tribunal in the Hague threw out most of China's territorial claims, but since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte, Manila has become less confrontational with Beijing. Beijing since then has carried on with its expansionist moves in the sea region, and intelligence officials said it may be deploying weapons on the islands it occupies.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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