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S. China Sea code of conduct in the works
Publication Date : 09-08-2012
Asean diplomats are working on an "advanced" code of conduct for the South China Sea that could be ready by year- end, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said yesterday.
The move comes after Asean, for the first time in its 45-year history, failed to come up with a joint communique during the Phnom Penh meeting of foreign ministers last month.
Any delays in completing the code may put the waterway at risk of further tensions, Dr Marty said.
The South China Sea is one of the world's busiest. China, Taiwan and four Asean nations - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - have staked claims to various parts of it.
"Asean has identified key elements of a code of conduct and Indonesia will be working hard to develop one," Dr Marty said.
"Hopefully, end of this year, we will have a more advanced code of conduct because in its absence we may be risking more incidents in the future and that cannot be good for anyone."
Under Indonesia's chairmanship last year, Asean and China agreed to adopt a set of guidelines to implement a declaration of conduct. The parties have been meeting this year to finalise it.
Dr Marty was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the celebrations marking Asean's 45th anniversary held at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta yesterday.
"I think the Phnom Penh meeting is behind us now, including the joint communique that never was a communique," he said.
"Now, what we are keen on is to ensure that the actions that are expected of Asean are actually carried out, whether it would be on the South China Sea or the other political, economic and social-cultural pillars."
Discussions are ongoing and some form of declaration would be issued before the November summit, he said.
Yesterday's ceremonial event was attended by nearly 60 diplomats. The failure to agree on a joint communique last month was blamed on disagreements over the South China Sea issue, notably by Vietnam and the Philippines.
Some said Cambodia, this year's Asean chair, was biased in favour of China when it refused to include any mention of the South China Sea in the joint communique.
But in a letter to The Straits Times, Cambodia's Ambassador to Singapore, Madam Sin Serey, said Phnom Penh acted from a "position of principle" to prevent tensions from worsening.
Indonesia, through Dr Marty, then took on the job of lobbying its Asean neighbours, and his 36-hour shuttle diplomacy to four Asean capitals saw the bloc taking a common position on six points of the issue.
Dr Marty will meet his Chinese counterpart tomorrow for bilateral talks, and hopes to "compare notes" on where they are on the issue.
"A divided Asean cannot be a central role in our region and Indonesia will certainly not be sitting idly by and allowing this to take place," he told reporters.
"So we will work very hard to continue to nurture Asean centrality and Asean unity."