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READ: 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting Joint Communique

10 August 2017

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have overshadowed discussions at the annual Association of South-East Asian Nations ministerial meetings in Manila, which were being held on Saturday as the regional bloc was to mark its 50th founding anniversary.

The minister went on to express her hope that China would continue to play the constructive role it had so far played to conclude the CoC negotiations.

The South China Sea chapter in the latest draft communique, a negotiated text subject to changes, is a watered-down version of one issued in Laos past year.

Criticising ongoing "land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarisation of disputed features" in the disputed sea, the trio said any code of conduct must be "legally binding, meaningful and effective", a demand noticeably absent from the ASEAN statement.

The U.S., Australian and Japanese foreign ministers called Monday for a halt to land reclamation and military actions in the South China Sea and compliance with an arbitration ruling that invalidated China's vast claims to the disputed waters.

The three countries also called on China to abide by a 2016 global tribunal ruling that invalidated Beijing's nine-dash line, which demarcates its claims to nearly the entire South China Sea, saying the decision was "final and legally binding".

"We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states", according to the short section on the South China Sea included in a 46-page communique.

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 worldwide law".

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Wang Yi said the climate in 2017 between states that have claims to the sea region had improved and was more conducive to peace.

Within ASEAN, however, there is a view sympathetic to China, which has ignored the ruling. But China, which claims virtually the entire South China Sea, is unlikely to allow the negotiations to move in that direction.

He was referring to Lê Lương Minh, secretary-general of the ASEAN and former deputy foreign minister of Vietnam.

Analysts said the agreement on a framework comes 15 years after a similar document was signed committing the parties to negotiating a code of conduct.

"China and ASEAN have the ability and wisdom to work together to maintain regional peace and stability", he said.

The meetings will be attended by Ministers from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries - Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam. "But the Philippines is trying very hard to broker compromise language".

But after the election of President Rodrigo Duterte a year ago, Manila has played down the verdict in favour of pursuing warmer ties with Beijing, a move that led to offers of billions of dollars in investments or aid from China.

READ: 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting Joint Communique