Asean ministers agree on sea code

HUA HIN, Thailand (dpa) – Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Wednesday agreed to a code of conduct for the South China Sea where territorial disputes have raised tensions with Beijing.

The meeting in Thailand was an informal session in preparation for two meetings in China that will focus on agreeing to a Code of Conduct (COC) to manage territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, yesterday attended a Special Asean Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Hua Hin, Thailand.

The meeting, which was hosted by Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, discussed preparations for the Special Asean-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to be held in Beijing, People’s Republic of China, from August 28 to August 30.

The ministers also discussed plans for Asean after 2015.

His Royal Highness left Hua Hin after attending the retreat. His Royal Highness was accompanied by Her Royal Highness Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Zariah.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa speaking to reporters after the meeting said, “We reinforced the common Asean position on our expectation that the COC be a rules-based regime to promote confidence, to avoid incidents and to address incidents should they occur.”

Asean will raise the issue at a foreign ministers’ meeting between Asean and China in Beijing later this month to commemorate their 10th anniversary of a “strategic partnership”.

“We want to see an early conclusion on the COC, the earlier the better,” said Thai Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow.

Beijing has agreed to another special meeting of senior officials from Asean and China to begin formal talks on the COC in Suzhou, near Shanghai, tentatively set for September 14-15.

“The discussions in September must be serious and earnest efforts on both sides to arrive at a code of conduct, and we hope that at the ministerial meeting in Beijing there will be a clear cut expression of political commitment to move this process forward,” Sihasak said.

China, which had previously refused to discuss a COC with its Asean partners, agreed to begin formal talks on the sensitive issue at an Asean meeting in Brunei in July. - Borneo Bulletin (15 August 2013)