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Asean urged to adopt Vietnam-China model for South China Sea

Publication Date : 09-08-2012


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) should adopt a similar approach to that adopted by Vietnam and China last year in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a Vietnamese lawyer says.

The failure of last month's annual meeting of Asean foreign ministers to issue a joint statement partly reflected disagreement over whether the disputes were bilateral or multilateral.

As the current Asean chair, Cambodia has been insisting that the disputes are bilateral. The Philippines and Vietnam, on the other hand, have been saying they are multilateral.

"Everyone was correct as some of the disputes are bilateral and others are multilateral," said the lawyer, an expert in Vietnamese constitutional law.

The lawyer, who is visiting Cambodia on private business and asked not to be named, said the agreement signed by Vietnam and China in Beijing in October last year could be a model for Asean after the ministerial failure in Phnom Penh.

Under the agreement, he said, disputes between Vietnam and China that involve no other country apart from Taiwan are subject to bilateral negotiations between Hanoi and Beijing.

Such disputes would include Vietnam's disputes with China over the Paracel islands, which were occupied by China in 1974.

They would also include the Philippine dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines tried to get mentioned in last month's joint ministerial statement.

The lawyer said, however, that the agreement between Hanoi and Beijing also provides for other disputes involving three or more countries excluding Taiwan to be dealt with on a multilateral basis. Such disputes are further south in the Spratly Islands where Brunei and Malaysia also have claims.

On this basis, the Philippine dispute over Swallow Reef would be considered as multilateral. Also known Pulau Layang Layang, the island is popular with tourists as a diving resort. It is administered by Malaysia but is also claimed by China, the Philippines and Vietnam as well as Taiwan.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong expressed hope Wednesday that Asean would move forward after last month's "unexpected mishap" at the ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh.

"Cambodia believes that Asean will continue to advance with the spirit of unity and solidarity, by setting aside issues we cannot yet reach consensus," he said.

Cambodia is scheduled to host an Asean summit and a broader East Asian Summit in November.

Apart from the South China Sea, Asean has many other unresolved territorial disputes between members, notably  between Cambodia and Thailand. At the same time, Thailand has disputes with Malaysia which, in turn, has separate disputes with Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.

Among countries taking part in the East Asia Summit, China has territorial disputes with India and Japan which, in turn, has separate disputes over islands with South Korea and Russia.


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