South China Sea dispute does not split ASEAN, says Najib

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THE South China Sea dispute has not split ASEAN unity despite “slight” differences in approaches among member states, said Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak.

During a press conference after the conclusion of the 26th ASEAN Summit in Langkawi yesterday, the Malaysian premier as ASEAN chair said the long-running maritime dispute will not break “strong ASEAN unity and solidarity”.

“We may differ slightly in our approaches, but we are all on the same page when it comes to the main principles of how we deal with the question of South China Sea,” he said.

Four ASEAN member states, including Brunei, have overlapping claims of South China Sea, while China claims 90 per cent of the islands that include busy sea lanes and rich natural resources.

Tensions were high following recent reports of China building a runway in one of the disputed islands on South China Sea.

This prompted ASEAN to issue a joint statement stating, “we share the serious concerns expressed by some leaders on the land reclamation being undertaken in the South China Sea, which has eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea”.

In the 12-page statement, it stated that the Southeast Asian leaders have instructed their respective foreign ministers to urgently address the matter constructively, including under various ASEAN frameworks such as ASEAN-China relations, as well as the principle of peaceful co-existence. “While noting the progress made in the consultations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, we urged that consultations be intensified to ensure the expeditious establishment of an effective COC,” it added.

The Malaysian prime minister said ASEAN will continue to uphold its principles, where disputes should be settled in a “very amicable negotiated manner”.

“Secondly, we must adhere to international laws. Thirdly, we should not do anything to increase tension in the region… these are stated ASEAN principles, and we remain steadfast with respect to our commitment to these principles,” the prime minister added.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said ASEAN has not failed in its efforts and will continue to send messages on the importance of peace and stability in the region.

“As ASEAN, we try to promote dialogue with whoever the country is. Yesterday, we mentioned that China is an important partner for ASEAN and ASEAN is also an important partner for China. So we will try to again, intensify our dialogue with China,” she told reporters.

The Brunei Times