YANGON, Oct. 31, Kyodo

ASEAN leaders are to express concern over recent developments in the South China Sea and reaffirm the importance of regional cooperation in maintaining peace and stability, diplomatic sources said Friday.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations diplomatic sources told Kyodo News that at the 25th ASEAN Summit in Myanmar’s administrative capital Naypyitaw on Nov. 12 the leaders will touch extensively on the South China Sea issue and push for early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the area where tensions are rising over maritime disputes.

One source quoted a draft chairman’s statement for the summit as saying, “We expressed our concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea, which have increased tensions in the area. We reaffirmed the importance of regional cooperation in maintaining peace and stability, promoting maritime security and safety, and the freedom of navigation, including in and over-flight above the South China Sea.”

According to the source, the draft says the leaders call on all involved to exercise self-restraint, settle disputes by peaceful means in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea.

In the draft, the leaders also highlight the importance of maintaining the momentum of negotiations and in achieving early conclusion of the code, the source said.

The ASEAN leaders also call for better cooperation among the involved parties to build confidence among them.

ASEAN claimants Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei that are involved in disputes with an increasingly assertive China have been struggling to hammer out a common position on the matter.

But ministers at the Naypytiaw meeting will likely refrain from mentioning any countries by name, more than one source said.

Tensions have run high between Vietnam and China since last May when China moved an oil-drilling platform into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands.

In August, the Philippines protested the presence of two Chinese ships in Reed Bank, an oil and gas-rich area of the South China Sea that Manila says lies well within its exclusive economic zone, in addition to similar spotting activity in other waters claimed by the Philippines, including Mischief Reef, which China occupied in 1995, and Scarborough Shoal, which China occupied in 2012.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including islands and other land features claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Many have expressed concern the territorial and maritime disputes could hinder more ASEAN integration.

Other issues to be addressed by the leaders according to the draft include growing unrest in the Middle East and the chairman’s statement is likely to condemn “recent acts of terror of the self-declared Islamic State and the Levant in Iraq, which threaten the peace and stability of the region.”

They are also expected to express “grave concern about the current Ebola crisis, which constitutes a threat to international peace and security” and to “welcome” the United Nations call for establishment of a U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

On the Korean Peninsula, the draft suggests the ASEAN leaders will note “concern over recent developments…in particular the test-firing of missiles, which was in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution banning the firing of ballistic missiles.”

In addition, they are expected to call for restart of talks among the North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions as well as emphasizing “the importance of addressing issues of humanitarian concern of the international community.”

Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand are the ASEAN members in addition to Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.


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