Southeast Asian body notes concerns on South China Sea

Bruno Cirelli
Agosto 10, 2017

Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said Tillerson would have the chance to engage with China's foreign minister at the meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila, but had no plans to meet North Korea's foreign minister there.

The Asean foreign ministers last Saturday formally endorsed the framework of the COC to address disputes in the South China Sea for eventual adoption by the regional grouping and China.

"When the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and if there is no major disruption from outside parties, with that as the precondition, then we will consider during the November leaders' meeting, we will jointly announce the start of the code of conduct consultation", he said.

Philippine foreign ministry spokesman Robespierre Bolivar gave no reason for the delay and said the statement would instead be released at the end of a series of regional events hosted by Manila in the next few days. He argued it is better to have dialogue and utilise a rare opportunity where parties involved in the issue are meeting together. Aside from calling for more sanctions, Trump's approach has centered on enlisting China — the North's biggest trading partner — and others to lessen ties to Pyongyang. The region itself is not a treaty partner of the US and it's up to the 10 Southeast Asian countries to respond firmly to China's posture in the South China Sea, he said.

A working draft of the communique seen on Thursday was a watered-down version of one issued a year ago and drops references to both.

"At minimum, we must adhere to the language of the Vientiane Joint Communique 2016, which made reference to land reclamation, non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of activities".

China, instead, has built seven man-made islands in disputed waters, three of which are equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.

"It's only Vietnam holding out".

Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said top diplomats engaged in candid discussions and passionate arguments about very sensitive and important issues on Saturday.

Robespierre L. Bolivar, spokesman of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs, said the foreign ministers "endorsed the framework of the code of conduct for eventual adoption at the ASEAN-China ministerial meeting on August 6".

The United States and China, North Korea's main ally, have been wrestling with how best to respond to the North's two intercontinental ballistic missile tests, which have deepened global fears that the missiles would be able to strike the USA mainland. The State Department said it needed to ensure Sudan is making enough progress on counterterrorism and humanitarian access and that it wanted to check "that Sudan is committed to the full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea".

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday said a new United Nations resolution over North Korea said parties involved in tensions on the Korean peninsula can have dialogue when conditions are right.

This year's chair, the Philippines, is expected to seek an agreement in Southeast Asia on ways to engage with North Korea following pressure from the United States to isolate Pyongyang over its missile tests.

The ASEAN position is short of the tougher line urged by the United States, which wanted it to downgrade relations with the already isolated nation. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, meeting with North Korea's top diplomat during the gathering in Manila, urged the North to "maintain calm" despite the United Nations vote.

The conference is the first time Tillerson and his North Korean counterpart have been in the same room.

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