ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
ASEAN has role to "keep temperature down" on South China Sea dispute: PM Lee
LANGKAWI: For the ASEAN Community to work and the regional economy to continue developing, the region needs to have a conducive environment for growth. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made this point at the close of the 26th ASEAN Summit in Langkawi, Malaysia on Monday (Apr 27).
He highlighted two key issues which he said leaders must keep a watchful eye on - the territorial dispute in the South China Sea and the threat of terrorism. While discussions were centred on the progress of the ASEAN Community Blueprint and the region's post-2015 vision, Mr Lee said the South China Sea was on everyone's minds.
ASEAN members Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines are among the claimant states, together with China, over the mineral-rich seas.
It was the first time Mr Lee addressed recent developments in the South China Sea - with tensions heightened over China's reclamation works in the area. Mr Lee said the situation has become more serious in the past year and, if not managed, will lead to tension on the ground and at sea.
He urged all parties to adhere to international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea and to ensure that rights to freedom of navigation and overflight are not jeopardised. He said ASEAN has a role to "keep the temperature down".
Leaders should also work together with China to expeditiously conclude a Code of Conduct (COC) to help prevent and manage incidents in the area.
"It is something which is being worked upon," Mr Lee said. "The Thai country coordinator who coordinates ASEAN's relations with China gave an update on the status of the COC discussions. They are making progress, but in the nature of these discussions it takes some time. Of course, the sooner we can get them done, the better. But to get it done sooner, all the parties have to agree to get it done sooner and it is not clear that all the parties want to do it as soon as possible."
On the topics of terrorism and the threat of Islamic State, Mr Lee reiterated the need for member states to enhance cooperation in areas like intelligence-sharing but stressed that security action is not enough.
"On the one hand, we have to deal with a security issue, on the other hand we also have to deal with the ideological issue, and the social issue, so that we can have them rehabilitated and reintegrated into society and I think that is something which ASEAN countries ought to work more closely together on,” Mr Lee said.
The leaders will meet again in November to finalise the ASEAN Community Blueprint, due by the end of the year. The ASEAN Community seeks to encourage integration in three pillars - economy, political-security and socio-cultural issues.
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