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S. China Sea code: Asean talks started

Publication Date : 25-10-2012


Asean countries have started discussions on the South China Sea code of conduct, and that there should be some progress at the next summit


Asean countries have started discussions on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, and Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam's assessment is that there should be some progress at next month's Asean Summit.

"Asean, China, all the others - everyone wants a positive outcome. Everyone understands the need for regional peace and harmony, and I believe that we will all work towards that," he said at a joint press conference after meeting Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa here.

Shanmugam, who is on a two-day visit to Indonesia, was asked about Indonesia's draft of a code of conduct which aims to speed up the process. The draft, he said, was a good start and a possible framework for discussions.

It comes as Asean members seek to avoid a repeat of the debacle in July when the grouping's foreign ministers failed to issue a communique, unable to agree on mentioning specific maritime claims in the document.

Senior officials from Asean and China will also meet in Thailand early next week to discuss the issue.

The South China Sea, however, did not dominate the ministers' two-hour talk, which included lunch.

The meeting focused on how Singapore and Indonesia could further strengthen a bilateral relationship Shanmugam described as multi-faceted and "very substantive and mutually beneficial".

"It's a very important relationship and it's very important that we understand each other and our viewpoints, and I think I can say to a large extent, we see many things in a very similar way," Shanmugam, who is also Singapore's Law Minister, told reporters later.

Both ministers announced that President Tony Tan Keng Yam will visit Indonesia next month to take these ties a step further.

"Whatever reference points that we used - be it trade, investment, tourism - the relations between our two countries are very strong and robust," Marty said.

"And yet at the same time, there are plenty more opportunities for us to be raising the relations to an even higher level."

Figures released this week show Singapore continues to be the largest source of foreign investment into Indonesia. Total trade between both sides was S$78 billion (US$63 billion) last year.

Yesterday's meeting comes some six months after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met at the annual leaders' retreat in Bogor, and as both sides prepare for the next retreat.

At these meetings, the leaders take stock of progress in six working groups set up in 2010 - on air connectivity, investments, tourism, manpower, agribusiness, and the special economic zones of Batam, Bintan and Karimun.

Marty told reporters later that discussions also touched on trilateral cooperation between Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, and in areas like tourism.

"We have sufficient modalities and mechanisms," he said. "What we need to be doing now is to always be thinking outside the box, looking for new opportunities."

A day earlier, Marty met his Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman for similar discussions.

Yesterday, he said he and Shanmugam also discussed an enhanced air transport agreement between both countries. To promote tourism, Marty proposed an arrangement where visitors with a visa for Singapore could also be allowed into Indonesia, and the other way around.

Shanmugam also called on Yogyakarta deputy governor Paku Alam IX and exchanged ideas to strengthen economic cooperation between Singapore and Yogyakarta.

He was later taken by Marty on a tour of Borobudur, a ninth-century Buddhist temple complex on the outskirts of the city, as well as to dinner.

This morning, he travels to Jakarta where he will call on Yudhoyono.


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