ASEAN Seeks to Heal Territorial Rift

Manila Bulletin, November 17, 2012 | Go to article overview

ASEAN Seeks to Heal Territorial Rift


PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Southeast Asian foreign ministers sought on Saturday to heal a rift over territorial rows involving China, aiming to build unity ahead of a leaders' summit in which rights and trade will also dominate.

The hot-button South China Sea issue was one of the top items for the ministers as they held a day of talks in the Cambodian capital, following months of acrimony over how to tackle China's claims to nearly all the waters.

"We wish that we would be able to solve this problem together," Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, told reporters at the start of the meeting.

"We hope that if there is anything we can do to help to build this new culture of norms... of new habits of working together we would like to help."

The foreign ministers' meeting is to pave the way for the annual ASEAN leaders' summit in Phnom Penh on Sunday, which the bloc is hoping will push forward policies on human rights and free trade.

United States (US) President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and leaders from six other nations are scheduled to then join their ASEAN counterparts for the two-day East Asia Summit starting on Monday.

Some of the countries involved in the talks have seen diplomatic relations plummet this year because of a raft of maritime territorial rows, and analysts said those disputes would likely overshadow proceedings in Phnom Penh.

ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have claims to parts of the South China Sea, home of some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels.

China insists it has sovereign rights to virtually all of the sea, and the Philippines and Vietnam have expressed concerns that their giant Asian neighbor has become increasingly aggressive this year in staking its claim.

An ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh ended in July without issuing a joint communique for the first time in the bloc's 45-year history because of divisions over how to handle the South China Sea issue.

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