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Dhaka Tribune

Asean summit focuses on sea disputes, N Korea

Update : 23 Apr 2013, 04:31 AM

Worried that long-seething rifts could escalate over the South China Sea, Southeast Asian leaders are expected this week to press China to agree to start negotiations on a new pact aimed at thwarting a major clash in one of the world's busiest waterways.

Concern over North Korea's latest threats is also expected to gain attention over economic issues in the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, being held Wednesday and Thursday in Brunei's capital of Bandar Seri Begawan.

The 10-nation bloc is scrambling to beat a deadline to transform the strikingly diverse region of 600m people into a European Union-like community by the end of 2015.

About 77% of the work to turn the bustling region into a single market and production base, first laid out in a 2007 blueprint, have been done, according to a draft statement to be issued after the summit. The document did not detail what still needed to be done.

The statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Monday, would reaffirm the ASEAN leaders' commitment to ensure the peaceful resolution of South China Sea conflicts in accordance with international law “without resorting to the threat or use of force.”

They would call for “the early adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea,” referring to a legally binding pact ASEAN would like to forge with China to replace a 2002 nonaggression accord that has failed to stop territorial skirmishes.

China, Taiwan and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have overlapping claims across the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in its entirety. The Philippines and Vietnam in particular have been at odds with China over the region in recent years, with diplomatic squabbles erupting over oil and gas exploration and fishing rights.

A tense standoff last year between Chinese and Filipino ships over the fishing-rich Scarborough Shoal is unresolved.

The Philippine vessels withdrew, but China has refused to pull out its three surveillance ships and remove a rope blocking Filipino fishermen from a Scarborough lagoon.

In January, the Philippines challenged China's massive territorial claims before an arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in a daring legal step that China has ignored. The tribunal has to appoint three more of five arbiters by Thursday, then start looking into the complaint if it decides it has jurisdiction.

A pre-summit meeting by ASEAN foreign ministers in Brunei two weeks ago was dominated by concerns over the territorial disputes and ended with a call for an early conclusion of a nonaggression pact with China, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

But Chinese officials have not clearly indicated when they would be ready to discuss the proposed accord.  



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