By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela
Bangkok, Sep 12 (efe-epa).- The foreign ministers of Asean member states on Saturday reiterated calls for dialogue and adherence to international law as a way to avoid conflict in the South China Sea.
The regional forum for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was also attended by representatives from the United States, China, Russia, Japan, India, the European Union and Australia.
“In this difficult time, the important task for us today is to continue efforts to fulfill the road of the forum, especially in constructing constructive dialogue and cooperation,” the foreign minister of Vietnam Pham Binh Minh said in the video conference. The meeting began Wednesday and concludes Saturday.
Pham, who is also the deputy prime minister of Vietnam, which this year holds the rotational Asean presidency, advocated dialogue as a way to keep peace and boost stability and prosperity in the Southeast Asia region.
One of the central focal points of the Asean meeting was the ongoing negotiations between the bloc and Beijing on the code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Beijing lays territorial claims to almost the entirety of the South China Sea, a major thoroughfare for world trade, but its stance puts it at odds with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, which also claim sovereignty over islands and maritime borders in the region.
China has ignored international rulings to continue its program of military development in the South China Sea.
The official agenda of Asean meetings rarely throw up surprises and this year discussions were limited by the use of video-conferencing, which had to be used given the risk of Covid-19.
Despite this, diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Washington have risen to the surface in recent days.
On Thursday, United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo warned Asean nations not to let China “walk over us.”
“Reconsider business dealings with the very state-owned companies that bully Asean coastal states in the South China Sea,” he said.
The previous day, China’s foreign minister, Want Yi, described the US as the “most dangerous factor” putting peace at risk in the South China Sea and accused Washington of militarizing the zone by sending aircraft carriers to the region.
Chinese naval vessels have in recent months been involved in a number of skirmishes in disputed waters with vessels belonging to nearby Southeast Asian countries.
In July, the US said China’s territorial claims over the Spratly and Paracel Islands were against the law.
Other issues on the table at the Asean meeting included the response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and economic recovery efforts.
Founded in 1967, Asean comprises Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The next leaders’ meeting is expected in November. It will be joined by representatives from the US, China and Russia. EFE-EPA