Increasing geopolitical tensions in the South China Sea has once again led to the foreign ministers of ASEAN countries reiterating their demand for having a code of conduct on the South China Sea. This was agreed upon during the ongoing ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur.
The ASEAN summit, which began on November 18, has focused on the South China Sea dispute as a major issue. However, there is strong resistance from China on discussing the issue during the summit. China, which is in the centre of the dispute with other Asian neighbours in the region, has been stressing on bilateral discussions between concerned countries to resolve the dispute rather than take up the matter in regional groupings like ASEAN.
ASEAN foreign ministers have expressed serious concern about the developments in the South China Sea, where China’s construction of artificial islands has fueled tensions with other claimants. “The ministers renewed their call for the ‘expeditious establishment of an effective code of conduct’ that will govern behaviour in the disputed area,” said Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, who hosted the meeting on November 20.
The ASEAN foreign ministers reaffirmed the importance to maintain peace, security, stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Claiming most of the territory, China has angered its neighbours in the region with its recent island building in the disputed region. Responding with military maneuvers near the islands, the US has sent a message to China that it won’t allow freedom of navigation to be compromised in seas that are crucial to political stability in Asia and global trade.
The Secretary General of ASEAN, Le Luong Minh said, the region stressed on the need to have a legally binding agreement to ensure that a maritime dispute with China is resolved peacefully, because an existing declaration of amity has proved to be useless. “The code of conduct has never been fully and effectively implemented and that’s why we need a new agreement, which would be legally binding,” said Mr Minh.
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