Asean looks to Brunei for mediation in sea row
Hakim Hayat & James Kon

ASEAN Foreign Ministers yesterday emphasised the importance of peaceful resolution amid the standoff in South China Sea between China and four claimant Asean member states – Brunei, Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Maintaining the region’s stability and security was one of the top issues discussed during the two-day Asean Ministerial Meeting to prepare for the 22nd Asean Summit to be held April 24 and 25 in Bandar Seri Begawan.

Optimism has been placed on Brunei Darussalam as the Chair of Asean this year as a mediator for nego-tiations to reach a common position in the South China Sea spat by the signing of a Code of Conduct, which generated tensions during Cambodia’s Chair-manship of Asean last year due to failure in reaching a common ground between a number of Asean member countries resulting in the non-issuance of a joint communiqué, the first time in Asean’s history.

The final day of the preparatory meetings at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Berakas yesterday was chaired by HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Chairman of the Asean Ministerial Meetings.

The Asean Foreign Ministers’ Retreat and the 9th Meeting of the Asean Political and Security Community Council (APSC) were held in the morning while the 12th Meeting of the Asean Coordinating Council (ACC) was held in the afternoon. HRH Princess Hajah Masna, the Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was also present at the APSC and ACC meetings.

The meeting yesterday saw ministers exchanging views on regional and international matters of mutual interest. They emphasised the importance of maintaining peace, stability, mutual trust and cooperation to enhance maritime security, and in ensuring peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The ministers also reiterated the need for all parties to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes.

They further reiterated their statement on the Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea, and emphasised the need to maintain momentum on dialogue and consultations following the positive outcome of the 19th Asean-China Senior Officials Consultations.

The ministers tasked their senior officials to work actively with China on the way forward for the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct on the basis of consensus.

The meeting also discussed the progress made since the 21st Asean Summit in November last year, including political and security cooperation; the widening acceptance of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia; ongoing work on the publication of the Asean Security Outlook; and received reports from various Asean bodies for submission to the Asean Leaders.

After the meeting, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Marty Natalegawa said apart from the South China Sea issue, other hot topics discussed during the meeting were ways to ease escalating tensions in North Korea and conflicts surrounding the region.

The Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert F Del Rosario, meanwhile said Brunei Darussalam with each member of the Asean can play a role in easing the tension in the Korean Peninsula.

He said Asean is taking the position of speaking out against North Korean aggression and would like to have peace and stability in the Korean peninsula. Asean would like North Korea to return to the six parties talk, he added.

On the maritime dispute in South China Sea, he said, “The Philippines is focusing on solidarity so that we can take a stronger position and are pushing for the expedition of the Code of Conduct on South China Sea. We are urging the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct.” - Borneo Bulletin (12 April 2013)