KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia — Southeast Asia will push for an early conclusion of a maritime pact to defuse tension in the South China Sea, Malaysia said Wednesday as the Philippines decried the grouping’s inaction over reclamation activities by China in disputed waters.
Foreign ministers from 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations grappled with the issue during their two-day retreat in Kota Kinabalu, capital of Malaysia’s Sabah State in Borneo.
The Code of Conduct is basically a set of rules for the resolution of disputes.
“The ministers instructed our senior officials to intensify efforts towards achieving the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and work vigorously towards the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said at a press conference at the end of the meeting.
As chair for ASEAN this year, Malaysia faces the challenge of ensuring the issue of South China Sea does not flare up.
Although Malaysia is a claimant state, it has thus far preferred quiet diplomacy in dealing with the dispute as it attempts to strike a balance between protecting its interests and preserving its relationship with China, a major trading partner.
The Philippines and Vietnam, however, have very public rows with China over China’s encroachment into their territory in the Spratly Islands.