Some ASEAN states express concern about tensions in S. China Sea

01, Aug. 2019

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BANGKOK, Kyodo - Some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed concern Wednesday about heightened tensions in the South China Sea in a veiled criticism against China's recent missile tests in disputed waters.

“Concerns were expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations, activities and serious incidents in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” foreign ministers of the 10-member ASEAN said in a joint communique issued after their meeting in Bangkok.

“We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law,” the statement said.

The ministers also welcomed progress in negotiations between ASEAN and China on coming up with a code of conduct among claimants in the South China Sea to manage tensions, which they hope will reach fruition by 2021.

“We warmly welcomed the continued improving cooperation between ASEAN and China, and were encouraged by the progress of the substantive negotiations towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea within a mutually-agreed timeline,” the document said.

In a separate meeting with his ASEAN counterparts, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said both sides have “a strong resolve to advance consultations,” having already “streamlined the text and established a clearer architecture and elements.”

China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, has reclaimed a number of disputed reefs and built airstrips and other military facilities there over the past few years. Also raising tensions was a Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile test in the sea that came to light recently.

China has conflicting territorial claims with four ASEAN members -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- as well as Taiwan in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than one-third of global trade passes.

The ASEAN ministers also dealt with efforts to achieve the early voluntary repatriation to Myanmar's Rakhine State of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims now in refugee camps in Bangladesh, as well as to ensure their livelihoods after they return.

“We stressed the importance of and reiterated our continued support for Myanmar's commitment to ensure safety and security for all communities in Rakhine State as effectively as possible and facilitate the voluntary return of displaced persons in a safe, secure and dignified manner,” the communique said.

More than 740,000 members of the persecuted ethnic minority group fled across the border from Myanmar's Rakhine State since August 2017 to escape a brutal military crackdown on insurgents.

The document says the ministers “stressed the need to find a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root causes of the conflict and to create a conducive environment so that the affected communities can rebuild their lives.”

The ASEAN foreign ministers will meet with foreign ministers of more “dialogue partners,” including Japan and the United States, on Thursday, followed by the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum, a meeting focused on security issues, on Friday.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (kyodo)