Defusing maritime tensions: ASEAN sets up hotline for defence ministers

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Amid festering tensions in South China Sea, the 10-nation Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has agreed to set up a hotline to resolve maritime disputes and to ensure communication lines remain open between member countries during a crisis. The decision comes ahead of the 27th ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur.

With many ASEAN countries having differences over the South China Sea dispute, the hotline should help manage a complex issue.  The proposal was initially brought up by Brunei when the country was the chair of ASEAN in 2013 and it was subsequently taken up under the framework of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting. Brunei is one of the four ASEAN member countries that have disputes over South China Sea, which also include  Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Addressing the issue about freedom of navigation including in the disputed South China Sea, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that a number of countries involved were still discussing the matter. “Our meeting will be a good opportunity for ASEAN countries to continue to engage with our eight dialogue partners on the issue,” Mr Hussein said.

The present scenario in South China Sea is volatile, and with the US sending a naval ship to the area, the tensions in the region are bound to escalate. “I don’t welcome anything that can disrupt the stability of the region. This is our region. We cannot allow other parties to determine our future,” Mr Hussein said. The South China Sea issue will be taken up at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting during the 27th ASEAN Summit to he held from November 18 to 22.

During the ASEAN Defence Ministers meet, the possibility of setting up an expert working group on cyber security, which would include dialogue partners, was also discussed. Some of the other issues discussed were the rise of extremist groups like Islamic State recruiting candidates from all over the world including South East Asia, the growing threat of terrorism was discussed. An ASEAN Militaries Ready Group on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief was also proposed by Malaysia.

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