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Leaked ASEAN Document Focuses on South China Sea

The Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) flag, right, leads the flags of the 10 member countries during the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Singapore.
The Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) flag, right, leads the flags of the 10 member countries during the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Singapore.

A final draft of the 26th ASEAN Chairman's Statement says the group will call for intensified consultations on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.

The draft, obtained by VOA Khmer from an ASEAN official who did not want to be identified, says the group will call for the full and effective implementation of the current Declaration of Conduct to enhance mutual trust and exercise self-restraint.

The document adds that, "While noting the progress made in the consultations/negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, we urged for the consultations to be intensified, to ensure the expeditious establishment of an effective COC.”

The statement is set to be released Monday following the conclusion of the summit meeting in Malaysia, which is chairing ASEAN this year.

Malaysia is one of several ASEAN countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, that have maritime territorial disputes with China.

In the past year, tensions have been raised by Beijing, which claims nearly the entire sea, placing an oil rig in waters also claimed by Vietnam and reclaiming land on reefs also claimed by the Philippines.

At the foreign ministers' meeting Sunday, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said ASEAN should tell China to stop the land reclamation projects immediately. Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said ASEAN would appreciate it if China would stop the work and discuss the situation.

The Philippines has filed suit in the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, a moved backed by Vietnam but rejected by China, which says it will only discuss disputes in bilateral negotiations.

Recently, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared to back Beijing's position when he said South China Sea disputes are not an issue for the whole of ASEAN, but rather an issue for claimant countries to work out directly with China. Vietnam and the Philippines want Beijing to talk with ASEAN as a group.

Chheang Vannarith, of the University of Leeds in Britain, told VOA Khmer that ASEAN is under scrutiny to see if it can resolve the South China Sea issue.

“If we look at the security and controversy, as well as the tension in the South China Sea, are the hot agenda. The Philippines will raise the construction of artificial island that China is building in the disputed islands of South China Sea to be an important agenda in the debate about the regional security," he said. "I think Vietnam will push for the solution over the South China Sea, especially to achieve the rules of the implementation of the COC over the South China Sea.”

Achmad Rizal Purnama, first secretary of the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, told VOA Khmer the South China Sea is an issue attracting attention from regional and global leaders.

“Especially the South China Sea. So it’s one of the issues, among the issues discussed by the leaders of ASEAN.”

According to the leaked ASEAN document, the South China Sea is not the only focus on the summit.

The integration of ASEAN Economic Community, and the adaptation of a declaration regarding a people centered ASEAN also are mentioned in the draft.