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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs             20  July 2011

Asean ready for South China Sea conduct guidelines

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On Tuesday evening, the Asean foreign ministers concluded their meeting with a joint communique, stressing that they were ready with a draft of guidelines on the implementation of the declaration on the conduct (DOC) of the parties in the South China Sea.

“We look forward to the finalization of the guidelines at the upcoming ASEAN-China senior officials’ meeting [on Wednesday],” the joint communique read.

The meeting of officials from ASEAN and China could likely agree on the guidelines, which according to some officials only included broad measures for the cooperation of countries but not rules to avoid clashes in the area.

The question, however, is whether China and ASEAN can agree on the start of negotiations on the code of conduct (COC), which will specify terms of engagement among parties in the area.

Frequent naval clashes between claimant countries in the South China Sea, especially in the area near the Spratly and the Paracel Islands, have turned the territory into a source of tension in the region. The South China Sea straddles some of the world’s most important trade routes.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told a press conference that while he acknowledged the importance of the COC, the finalization of the guidelines would show that Asean and China could move toward a peaceful solution to the problems.

“We can begin negotiation on COC after the finalization of the guidelines or can do both in parallel. The bottom line is that we have development in handling the problems,” he said.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said there was a sense of urgency from both Asean and China and the grouping’s dialogue partners, such as the US and Russia, to make the area a peaceful one and managed effectively under stability and security, with freedom of navigation.

“There’s a new sense of urgency in the region and from around the world because ASEAN has become so important, so critical to the global community, whether it is in economic development, economic recovery or the global interest for peace and security,” he said.


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