ASEAN foreign ministers begin talks, with S. China Sea on agenda

Jul 31 , 2019. Kyodo News.

BANGKOK – Foreign ministers of 10 Southeast Asian countries began their annual meeting in Bangkok on Wednesday, with the Korean Peninsula and disputed South China Sea at the top of the agenda.

Tensions remain high in the South China Sea, where some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have overlapping claims with China, with a Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile test in the sea coming to light recently.

In his speech at the opening ceremony of the foreign ministers’ meeting, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha called on ASEAN members to deepen internal collaboration and be open to cooperation with non-ASEAN countries.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, who chaired the meeting, stressed the importance of unity and cooperation among ASEAN members. More cooperation is needed “in time of great challenges” because “we all are stakeholders,” he said.

The United States and North Korea have yet to resume stalled talks on the latter’s denuclearization even though their leaders have agreed to resume them.

In a joint communique to be issued after the meeting, the ministers will urge the parties concerned to resume dialogue and continue the denuclearization process on the peninsula, according to a draft of the statement seen earlier.

According to the draft, the ministers will underscore the importance of ASEAN-led platforms, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum — 27-member regional security talks that include North Korea — to promote the dialogue. The forum will be held in Bangkok on Friday.

Regarding the South China Sea, the ministers will take note of concerns from some members over land reclamation and activities in the areas that could undermine the regional stability, according to the draft.

China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, has reclaimed a number of disputed reefs and built airstrips and other military facilities there over the past few years.

ASEAN and China have been negotiating a code of conduct for the disputed sea to manage tensions in the waters.

The ministers are expected to welcome an effort to complete the first reading of a “single draft negotiation text” of the code within this year.

ASEAN foreign ministers are scheduled to hold talks with their dialogue partners, including Japan and the United States, on Thursday.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

CR: Kyodo News