SE Asia seeks common ground on South China Sea spat

JAKARTA/PHNOM PENH Thu Jul 19, 2012 10:42am EDT

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa arrives for a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh July 19, 2012. Natalegawa on Wednesday began a Southeast Asian tour in a bid to restore the credibility of the ASEAN regional group, and to seek a common position on the South China Sea after the failure of its summit last week. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa arrives for a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh July 19, 2012. Natalegawa on Wednesday began a Southeast Asian tour in a bid to restore the credibility of the ASEAN regional group, and to seek a common position on the South China Sea after the failure of its summit last week.

Credit: Reuters/Samrang Pring

Related Topics

JAKARTA/PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Indonesia's foreign minister will detail talks by Southeast Asian states aimed at crafting a joint statement on the South China Sea dispute, which undermined a regional summit last week and underscored growing tensions over the territory.

Marty Natalegawa will hold a news conference in Jakarta on Friday after visiting Cambodia on Thursday as part of a whistle-stop tour aimed at repairing discord among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) over the best way to resolve disputes in the South China Sea.

The territorial wrangle between the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Vietnam over potentially oil and gas rich areas in the South China Sea has exposed how deeply ASEAN member states have been polarized by China's rapidly expanding economic influence in the region.

But Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Thursday said that some form of statement on how a number of issues involved in the dispute could be handled could be released this week.

"We, ASEAN foreign ministers, agreed in principle on a number of issues over the South China Sea issue," Hor Namhong told a brief news conference on Thursday after meeting Natalegawa , without giving details.

"I hope that by tomorrow morning, we will receive approval confirmation from all ASEAN foreign ministers in order to announce these points."

Natalegawa, before flying back to Jakarta from Phnom Penh on Thursday, said the key points of a statement had been outlined and the "basic positions" could be announced imminently if the other states were to approve.

In 2002, ASEAN and China adopted an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea to avoid conflict and ease tensions. Last week they indicated efforts to work on a formal code, although no firm commitments were made.

Bickering over how to address the increasingly assertive role of China -- an ally of several ASEAN states -- in the strategic waters of the South China Sea has placed the issue squarely as Southeast Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended last week's summit and called on all parties, including China, to make clear exactly what their claims were in the South China Sea and open multilateral talks, something likely to rile Beijing, the resident superpower that prefers a bilateral approach.

The United States insists it is neutral on the issue, but having recently signed military cooperation agreements with claimant states Vietnam and the Philippines, China has become increasingly wary of its intentions.

On Thursday, China's state-run news agency Xinhua said a fishing fleet of 30 boats, including a 3,000-tonne lead boat, arrived at what China calls the Zhubi Reef in the Spratly Islands for fishing on Wednesday, almost a week after leaving port in south China's Hainan province.

The reef is claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

"Although Chinese fishermen have fished in the South China Sea for centuries, the size of the fishing fleet makes it a rarity," Xinhua said.

ASEAN included Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

(Writing by Martin Petty; Additional reporting by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Ed Lane)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (13)
Kailim wrote:
This bold step initiated by the Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, is very positive. If he succeeds eventually,it will prove to the world that ASEAN nations are solidly united as one no matter what issues are in front of them. In future no nations dare to despise this group of countries which will become very difficult for foreign powers to manipulate them.

Jul 19, 2012 5:48am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Free_Pacific wrote:
Lets hope ASEAN can repair the damage inflicted by China. At least if visiting countries individually, the Cambodian’s can’t pull the cord in the microphone when people try and have their say.

@Kailim – As someone who supports increased Chinese naval expenditure, I do wonder who you claim is interfering in AEAN.

Jul 19, 2012 5:59am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Pterosaur wrote:
@Free_Pacific,

As the idiom goes: The smoke may be China, but the real fire underneath can not be other than the US.

China and some other ASEAN countries have previously agreed not to stir up issues on these disputed islands. “Coincidentally”, one year after the US announce its come-back to the region, Philipines and Vietnam sent their military ships to these islands and made international claims.

China wants to resolve the issue peacefully. Unfortunately, the US has given too much confidence to these small countries to invade the islands.

Let’s see if China will do what it is forced to do. I am sure it will let leave anyone intact, contrary to what the US would dream of.

Jul 19, 2012 7:22am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.