* Cambodian and Indonesian foreign ministers push for
* Indonesian foreign minister on whistle-stop SE Asia tour
* Large Chinese fishing fleet arrives in Spratly Islands
By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH, July 19 Southeast Asian states are
working to craft a joint ASEAN statement over the South China
Sea issue on Thursday, Cambodia's foreign minister said, in an
apparent effort to repair discord that led to an unprecedented
failure to issue a communique after a regional summit last week.
The foreign ministers of Indonesia and chair country
Cambodia said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
said they hope to agree on "a number of issues" among all 10
ASEAN member states imminently after failing to do so for the
only time in its 45-year history.
"We, ASEAN foreign ministers, agreed in principle on a
number of issues over the South China Sea issue," Cambodian
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told a brief news conference,
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."
The disagreement has exposed how deeply ASEAN member states
have been polarised by China's rapidly expanding economic
influence in the region.
The announcement came after Indonesian Foreign Minister
Marty Natalegawa visited Cambodia on Thursday as part of his
whistle-stop Southeast Asian tour aimed at rescuing the group's
Natalegawa said the key points of the statement had been
outlined and the "basic positions" could be announced imminently
if the other states were to approve.
"If a consensus is confirmed in the next few hours, in the
next few moments, then perhaps, the chairman would be in a
position to formally announce those basic ASEAN positions," he
said, without elaborating.
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
China has territorial claims over a huge area covering
waters that Vietnam and the Philippines say they also have
sovereignty over. All three countries are eager to tap possibly
huge offshore oil reserves.
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.
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.
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 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.
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Lane)