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ASEAN remains divided on territorial row

Ministers can't agree on wording of statement on Scarborough Shoal dispute reporter, Phnom Penh

July 11, 2012

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After three days of discussions, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries remain divided over the wording of their statement on the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. The Philippines is pushing for a draft statement that outlines its concern over the standoff in Scarborough Shoal, but Cambodia, the current chairman of ASEAN, is opposing it. ASEAN foreign ministers have agreed during this week's meeting on the basic elements of the proposed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Among the agreements are the inclusion of provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the peaceful resolution of disputes and the exercise of restraint. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, however, admitted that ASEAN members are still divided whether to include recent incidents at the Scarborough Shoal in the conference statement. He said the dilemma is "how to capture ASEAN views" on recent "worrying developments" in the South China Sea. The Philippines and China have been engaged in a tense standoff since April 8 over the Scarborough Shoal, a small group of islands about 198km west of the Philippines. "It is very important for us to express our concerns with what happened ... but more importantly is [how] to move forward to ensure that this kind of event is not repeated," Natalegawa said. Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario insisted on the need for an "effective implementation" of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea and the enforcement of the proposed regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. The DOC is an agreed document signed by ASEAN members and China in November 2002. The declaration promotes peace and stability in the region and prevents parties from engaging in military activities. Four ASEAN countries ­­-- the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei -- are laying claim to parts of the South China Sea while China says it owns more than 95 percent of the islands in the region. Zhang Jianmin, spokesman for the Chinese delegation, yesterday told a press briefing that Beijing's position is to peacefully settle disputes over sovereignty of some islands with parties involved. "China has set up the China-ASEAN maritime cooperation fund and is ready to carry out with ASEAN practical cooperation in maritime connectivity, marine scientific research and environmental protection, safety of navigation, search and rescue and fighting transnational crime to build up mutual trust and expand common interests,” Zhang said. He assured that “China will always be a good neighbor, good friend and good partner for other Asia-Pacific countries, and contribute more to building a peaceful, growing, prosperous and harmonious Asia-Pacific region.” Related reports Protestors descend on China mission
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