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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    22 July 2012

Asean statement 'can help ease tension'


The statement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on the South China Sea issue can help ease tension in the region, experts said, after Asean members called for restraint and dialogue yesterday.

Excluding any specific disputes initiated by relevant countries, the six-point statement can temporarily stabilise the situation in the South China Sea, said Yang Baoyun, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at Peking University.

It helps restore Asean centrality in the regional architecture and shows the international community that Asean countries are still unified in response to speculation that they have split up, said Yang.

The nations' foreign ministers failed to issue a joint communique concluding their annual meeting in Cambodia a week ago - for the first time in 45 years, since the establishment of the regional organisation.

During the meeting, the rotating Asean chair country, Cambodia, rejected a proposal by relevant countries to mention their separate territorial disputes with China in the customary communique that should have been published by the end of the meeting.

Asean countries agreed in the statement that they will maintain restraint and solve the disputes through political dialogue, continue to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and relevant follow-up statements.

The Southeast Asian countries also pledged to reach agreement on formulating a code of conduct on the South China Sea as soon as possible and solve the disputes according to international laws accepted by most countries around the world.

China has noted the statement issued by Asean countries, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei yesterday, adding that China will work closely with Asean countries to implement the DOC and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

The core of the issue is which country has sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and nearby waters, and there are solid historical and legislative evidences proving China's sovereignty over them, Hong said.

Hong reiterated that China and Asean countries have common interests and responsibilities to maintain stability and dynamic development in the region, and strategically maintain bilateral ties based on mutual respect and trust.

According to a report on, Singapore welcomed the release of the statement, saying it was a result of the unceasing efforts of Indonesia.

The Singapore Foreign Ministry said the statement goes some way to repairing the damage caused by the failure of the 45th Asean Ministerial Meeting, during which Singapore and other like-minded Asean member states had tried very hard to negotiate a consensus on what should be said about the issue.

The Asean countries have realised that they have different attitudes toward the issue, and a divided Asean will threaten the process of integration in the region, which yields negative influence on regional development, said Chu Hao, an expert on Southeast Asian studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

The statement does not regulate specifically what each country should do to solve the issue, and whether it could solve the disputes still depends on how each country interprets and implements it, he added.

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