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Asean must unite on South China Sea, says Kerry
Publication Date : 29-09-2013
The United States has urged Asean leaders to speak in one voice on the conflict with China over South China Sea as well as speed up conclusion of the code of conduct for the troubled sea, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichak-chaikul said on Friday.
Asean foreign ministers, including Surapong, discussed the matter with US Secretary of State John Kerry in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Kerry told Asean that the code of conduct, if it came into force, could ensure peace and stability not only in the region but also beyond, Surapong said.
A conflict between China and some Asean members - notably the Philippines and Vietnam - created tensions in the region and called the attention of Washington.
Asean members reacted to the conflict differently. The Philippines sought UN arbitration to solve the conflict while some others hoped the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea could help.
The US has made clear its stance not to get involved in territorial conflicts but wanted to see stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Thailand, as the coordinator between Asean and China, briefed the meeting on progress regarding the code of conduct during the recent meeting of senior Asean and Chinese officials.
Kerry told his Asean colleagues that President Barack Obama attached a lot of importance to Asean and the East Asia region. Washington wanted to expand economic engagement with the group, according to Surapong.
Obama will travel to Southeast Asia in early October for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in Bali, the Asean Summit in Brunei and bilateral visits to Malaysia and the Philippines.
The US wanted to expand its economic partnership with Asean by having a non-binding document to facilitate liberalisation of trade and investment in the region.
The US also wants members of Asean to join the Trans Pacific Partnership but many countries are still reluctant.
The document, which might be issued in the form of a joint statement soon, would express the will to push for economic liberalisation, according to an official.
Kerry told his Asean colleagues that the US also wanted to enhance people-to-people relations with Asean. Projects concerning education and English-language study were initiated with Asean countries to enable people to know more about each other, Surapong said.
After attending the US-Asean ministerial meeting, Surapong had bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Indonesia, Albania, United Arab Emirates, Colombia, Sudan and Macedonia as well as representatives of the UN Office on Drug and Crime.
He signed a memorandum of understanding with Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati on visa exemption for officials and diplomats and with Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki on double taxation.
Surapong also signed a memorandum of understanding on a bilateral consultation mechanism with Colombia's Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar.
He sought support during his meetings for Thailand's bid to join the UN Security Council in 2017-18 as a non-permanent member.