ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Sea dispute not to overshadow Asean talks: official
Publication Date : 15-01-2013
The South China Sea disputes will not overshadow talks at the forthcoming Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in Brunei.
Instead, discussions between the leaders are expected to focus on measures aimed at defusing tensions among disputants in the territorial row, the Bruneian deputy defence minister said in an interview with The Brunei Times.
"What's important for defence ministers is ... to see what measures can be undertaken to prevent the situation from escalating," Hj Mustappa Hj Sirat said.
Brunei is keen to pursue a code of conduct among claimants of the South China Sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes and vast mineral resources. The long-stalled code is seen as a way of reducing the potential for armed conflict over oil and gas exploration, and fishing and shipping rights in disputed areas.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich sea, but Asean members Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia have overlapping claims in the area.
Apart from discussions on preventative measures, the upcoming ADMM and ADMM-Plus is expected to take a backseat in resolving the territorial row. Hj Mustappa hopes the crux of the issue will be addressed by the heads of state.
"As far as the issue is concerned, I think that is better left to the relevant forums to discuss how best to resolve it," he said, alluding to the Asean leaders' summits slated for April and November.
Defence diplomacy is set to take precedence when the respective leaders convene for the ADMM and the ADMM-Plus. Brunei's deputy defence minister explained that the meetings would aim to enhance confidence building and promote trust among member countries, as well the region's dialogue partners.
"We hope to create an environment where the problem can be discussed in a very friendly and amicable manner. I think that's very important," he said.
Discussions among the defence ministers will also largely focus on the first ever ADMM-Plus military exercise scheduled for June 16 to 20. The multilateral exercise will see the participation of all 18 member states, including armed forces from the United States and China.
Tensions between Asean and China have escalated in the past two years, particularly between the economic giant and its smaller regional neighbours Vietnam and the Philippines.
Manila has pushed for a code of conduct based on a United Nations maritime law that would delineate the areas belonging to each country, stretching 200 nautical miles out from its coastal baseline, called "exclusive economic zone".
The ADMM will take place on May 6 and 7, followed by the ADMM-Plus on August 29.
Additional reporting by Quratul-Ain Bandial.