US Secretary of State cites importance of tie-up with ASEAN


The release of the statement came shortly after the ministers met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and agreed on a framework for conducting negotiations on the decades-long row that included key clauses advocated by China.

Critics say Beijing's end game is to either negotiate what amounts to a gentleman's agreement, or stall and buy time to expand its defence capability on its manmade islands.

The ministers also called for a proposed code of conduct in the South China Sea, to be negotiated by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to be "legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with global law".

The problem is that it does not refer to whether the code of conduct will have legally binding force. Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines, however, all claim some or all of the South China Sea and its myriad shoals, reefs and islands.

Apart from the 10 ASEAN members, North Korea is one of 17 other countries including China, South Korea and the United States that participate at ARF meetings. Beijing frequently accuses the US of meddling in what it says is an Asian dispute that should be resolved only by the countries involved.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Phạm Bình Minh has highlighted that ensuring peace and stability, including maritime security, is a shared interest of all states in and outside of Southeast Asia.

China and ASEAN celebrate the 15th anniversary of their strategic partnership next year.

The largest development is the prospect of a "negotiating framework for a code of conduct".

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Singapore is not a claimant to any disputed part of the South China Sea but is home to the biggest port in Southeast Asia, and has made clear its open economy depends on continued free navigation in the area.

Meanwhile, a research report said that Global trade through the South China Sea totaled 28 trillion US dollars from 2008 to 2016, with annual value rising from 2.61 trillion dollars in 2008 to 3.37 trillion in 2016.

These tensions divide ASEAN.

In a surprise move, the ministers defied China's steadfast stance and issued a joint communique late Sunday that indirectly criticized Beijing's land reclamation and military fortifications in the disputed waters.

The previous administration had brought the dispute to the Arbitral Tribunal but China rejected the court's authority and refused to participate in the hearings.

The U.S., Chinese and Japanese navies ended a three-day search for a missing sailor who was believed to have gone overboard in the South China Sea.

By taking advantage of ASEAN's principle of unanimity, Cambodia - a pro-China member of the association - has sought to prevent actions against China, such as the issuance of a joint statement condemning that country. China sent ships to intercept the destroyer. "We reiterate our support for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner, call for the exercise of self-restraint, and underscore the importance of creating conditions conducive for dialogue to de-escalate tensions", it said.