ASEAN leaders urge self-restraint to cool South China Sea tension

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov. 10 (PNA/Kyodo) -- Southeast Asian leaders are to call for self-restraint to avoid escalation of tensions in the South China Sea, according to a draft obtained Monday of a document expected to be released at the end of a regional summit meeting later this month.

Leaders from the 10-member countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are expected to gather in Kuala Lumpur for their second summit on Nov. 21, after the first in April.

The territorial disputes over some rocky outcrops that make up the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea will once again top the agenda as in the April summit.

According to the draft "chairman's statement" that represents the consensus of the grouping, the leaders "reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, freedom of navigation and overflight over the South China Sea."

"We called on all parties to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that would complicate and escalate tension," read a copy of the draft, dated Oct. 26, seen by Kyodo News.

The leaders pushed for a peaceful resolution to the conflict based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and want all member states to abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and to establish a Code of Conduct (COC).

The COC is a legally binding document on the rules in settling disputes in the South China Sea as opposed to the DOC, which is a set of nonbinding principles.

The leaders are meeting as tension in the South China Sea rose a notch higher last month after the United States sent a navy destroyer close to an artificial island being built by China in the fiercely contested waters.

The Spratlys, believed to hold rich oil and mineral deposits, are claimed by China, Taiwan and four ASEAN member nations -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The United States had said it would not take sides in the territorial disputes but vowed to champion freedom of navigation in a waterway where over USD 5 trillion of global trade transits annually.

The power play between the two ASEAN dialogue partners is expected to spill over when leaders from both China and the United States come to Kuala Lumpur for the East Asia Summit scheduled for Nov. 22.

The EAS comprises ASEAN -- which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

Last week at a meeting of defense ministers from the EAS countries also held in Malaysia, squabbles over the disputed waters scuttled their plan for a joint declaration and instead, a "chairman's statement" was issued.

Besides the South China Sea issue, the chairman's statement of the leaders' summit also touches on a key ASEAN agenda -- the push toward a single community.

Malaysia plays host at a crucial juncture in ASEAN developments as this year marks the deadline for the formal establishment of the ASEAN Community, which entails closer integration through three pillars -- political security, economic and socio-cultural aspects.

But as leaders toast to the symbolic establishment of ASEAN Community 2015, they have already laid out a framework for the "ASEAN Community Vision 2025" that the leaders will adopt in a document titled "Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together."

"We resolved to consolidate our community, building upon and deepening the integration process to realize a politically cohesive, economically integrated, socially responsible and a truly rules-based, people-oriented and people-centered ASEAN community," according to the draft chairman's statement.

"In realizing ASEAN 2025, we underlined the urgency to strengthen ASEAN institutional capacity and increase ASEAN institutional presence at the national, regional and international levels," said the document.

Other issues the statement touches on include the recent wave of violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank that has killed dozens of Palestinians and a handful of Israelis since attacks began early October.

The leaders expressed their concern and called for restraint besides reaffirming their support for an independent Palestinian state and a two-state solution where Palestine and Israel co-exist in peace. (PNA/Kyodo)


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