ASEAN must push on with China sea code: Indonesia

Posted at 07/19/2012 2:34 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Indonesian foreign minister met his Philippine counterpart on Wednesday, saying Southeast Asian nations must push forward with a "code of conduct" over the disputed South China Sea.

The comments came after disagreements at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Cambodia last week held up progress on the code, which is aimed at soothing tensions in the flashpoint waters.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa met his counterpart Albert del Rosario in Manila on the first leg of a tour of ASEAN nations.

"ASEAN must continue to maintain its cohesion, its unity in addressing the issue of the South China Sea," Natalegawa told reporters.

He said both ministers agreed ASEAN should rally around basic principles concerning the South China Sea, including the implementation of the code of conduct to avoid conflicts in the area.

And he said he hoped his regional tour would result in a "common ASEAN position" on the waters, which would dispel the perception that the group is divided.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims in the area.

The long-stalled code of conduct, strongly supported by the United States, is seen as a way of reducing the chances of a spat over fishing, shipping rights or oil and gas exploration tipping into an armed conflict.

But splits in Cambodia saw the Philippines accuse China of "duplicity" and "intimidation".

Tensions between the Philippines and China have worsened since April after a face-off began over the Scarborough Shoal, an outcropping of rocks in the South China Sea claimed by both countries.

The two ministers "agreed on the basic principles on how to reinforce the ten-member organisation, in view of the failure of ASEAN to issue a joint communique... in Phnom Penh last week," the Philippine government said in a statement.