KUALA LUMPUR – The 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, which began yesterday, discussed ways to address erosion of trust and confidence amongst parties amidst land reclamation and escalation of tensions in the South China Sea, said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.
In view of this, the ministers urged the senior officials to intensify their consultations so that the Code of Conduct (CoC) could be established as soon as possible, he said.
The CoC is a set of rules that would put in place mechanisms to avoid conflict in the contentious resource-rich South China Sea, where there are overlapping territorial maritime claims involving Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Taiwan.
Anifah said that the ministers noted the progress on the consultations towards the establishment of the CoC, in particular the agreement between ASEAN and China to proceed to the next stage of negotiation and discuss the framework, structure and elements of the proposed CoC.
He said the ministers also agreed that it was imperative that the matter is handled constructively and explored the possibility of putting in place preventive measures.
This is to ensure disagreement amongst parties on matters relating to the South China Sea did not escalate into a situation that might undermine peace, security and stability, Anifah told a media briefing at the 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) here.
“We agreed that exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate tension must be enhanced,” he said.
Anifah also said that issues on the South China Sea were discussed extensively by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ at the plenary and retreat session held after the opening ceremony by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in the morning.
During both meetings, the foreign ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability as well as freedom of navigation and over-flight over the South China Sea, as an important sea lane of communication for regional and international trade and commerce.
“We emphasised the importance of full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, in its entirety,” he added.
ASEAN and China inked the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002 and had agreed to draw up the CoC as a guideline to avoid any friction or conflict in the South China Sea.
Touching on external relations, Anifah said that the ministers agreed to confer sectoral dialogue partner status to Norway as well as evaluate and study applications by several countries for a partner status.
“The interest of many countries wanting to establish formal relations reflects the importance of ASEAN,” he said.
On irregular movement of persons in Southeast Asia, Anifah said that the ministers emphasised the importance of solving the issue including identifying the root causes and other contributory factors.
Meanwhile, China Foreign Minister Wang Yi hoped the ASEAN-China ministerial meeting here tomorrow would come up with more constructive discussions on the territorial claim issue.
“I hope there is no double standards (in handling of the issue), as it is not beneficial to any party,” he said, adding that continuous smearing and criticism level at claimant parties would not help in finding solution to the long-standing problem.
He said this to reporters after a bilateral meeting with Malaysian Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussien at PWTC here.