The risk of conflict in the South China Sea is increasing and ASEAN should be ready to deal with any incident, an Australian maritime security expert has warned.
"Increased naval activity does carry the risk of an unfortunate incident which could lead to shooting, loss of life, or the sinking of a ship," said Dr. Samuel Bateman, fellow of the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security.
He was speaking to officials and maritime experts from Japan, China and ASEAN countries in Manila today at a three-day forum to discuss the region's maritime security.
Problems include territorial disputes involving China and several ASEAN members over island groups in the South China Sea, such as the Paracel and Spratly islands.
"Unfortunately, at present, we don't have processes in place to manage these incidents and I think that is an important requirement we need to think about," said Bateman.
He also voiced concern at what he said was the ineffective implementation by ASEAN of international agreements on piracy, transnational crime and disasters.
"The problem is that we have lots of talk, lots of agreements in place. It's implementing them and taking them forward which is difficult, he said.
Increasing tension in the South China Sea makes it necessary for ASEAN and dialogue partners to institutionalize a process to resolve disputes in a peaceful manner, he added.
ASEAN, which comprises the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, Brunei and Vietnam, is currently moving towards agreeing a draft code of conduct on the South China Sea with regard to disputes with China.
South China becomes West Philippine Sea
Hanoi in sovereignty spat with Beijing