ASEAN foreign ministers have adopted a framework for a code of conduct (COC) on the South China Sea as they expressed concern over the escalation of tension in the Korean Peninsula caused by North Korea’s nuclear programme.
They are currently meeting in Manila for the 50th Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Themed “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World,” the summit, which ends on Aug 8 is also joined by non-Asean states, such as the United States.
In a 46-page joint communiqué released on Sunday, the 10-member bloc, noting the “improving cooperation between Asean and China”, said it was encouraged by the conclusion and adoption of the COC framework on South China Sea.
It is hoped this will facilitate work for the conclusion of an effective COC on a mutually agreed timeline.
“In view of this positive momentum, we reaffirmed our readiness to begin the substantive negotiation on the COC and tasked our senior officials to start the negotiation on the COC with China,” the joint communiqué said.
“We recognised the benefits to be gained from having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and prosperity.”
Beijing claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold a wealth of untapped oil and gas deposits. An estimated US$5.3 trillion of trade passes annually in the disputed maritime region, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
Asean diplomats called for “non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states to avoid complicating the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.
The Asean envoys said the South China Sea issue was extensively discussed, with some ministers expressing concern on land reclamations by Beijing in the disputed maritime region.
“(Such actions) have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” they said.
They reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
On another front confronting Asia, the Asean ministers reiterated their grave concerns over the escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula.
They cited the most recent testing by the North Korea of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) on July 4 and July 28, previous ballistic missile launches and two nuclear tests in 2016.
“These developments seriously threaten peace, security and stability in the region and the world,” the Asean envoys said in a separate statement.
They urged Pyongyang to immediately comply fully with its obligations under all relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.
“We reiterate our support for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner,” they said.
The ministers called for the exercise of self-restraint, underscoring the importance of creating conditions conducive for dialogue to de-escalate tensions in the region.
“We support initiatives to improve inter-Korean relations towards establishing permanent peace in the Korean Peninsula. Asean stands ready to play a constructive role in contributing to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula,” the envoys said.
The Asean diplomats also cited the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on July 7 by the United Nations in asking North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme.
North Korea, who is an Asean Regional Forum participant, has yet to comment on the Asean diplomats’ concern over its nuclear programme.