Asean Chair Malaysia wants efforts on South China Sea Code of Conduct to be hastened

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia wants the ongoing effort to draw up a Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea to be hastened and has pledged to push for progress on the thorny issue that threatens to strain ties between China and claimant countries in the maritime dispute.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said Malaysia, which is chairing Asean this year, would endeavour to make progress in the development of the CoC, stressing that the country's position on the South China Sea has been consistent - that differences and disputes must be addressed through peaceful means.

"While we recognise the development of the CoC is a gradual process in which parties have agreed to take a step-by-step approach, we are of the view the pace needs to be hastened. Malaysia hopes China will work together with Asean member states in hastening the conclusion of negotiations on the CoC," he said in an email interview with The Star.

Asean member countries Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei, along with Taiwan, are involved in the maritime territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.

In 2002, Asean and China agreed on a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, a document which among others reaffirmed the parties' commitment to international law. The parties have since been working to draw up an official and binding CoC to further promote peace and stability.

Tensions in the disputed areas have however continued to flare up due to actions by several claimant countries. China, in the most recent incident, was reported to be reclaiming parts of the contested Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly islands.

Anifah described issues of the South China Sea as multi-faceted, complex and highly sensitive and as such, must be managed calmly and rationally through dialogue and consultation.

He said it was important that the countries concerned exercise self-restraint and avoid the use or threat of using force as it could exacerbate the situation on the ground.

"I believe the CoC will provide the necessary rules of engagement for all parties in managing their activities in the South China Sea. It is therefore imperative that Asean and China make meaningful and tangible progress in the development of the CoC," he said.

Asked if Malaysia's strong ties with China could affect the way it handles issues such as the South China Sea dispute, Anifah explained while Malaysia and several other regional countries have differences with China over the issue, it does not affect Asean-China ties on other matters where there are common interests.

"Asean and China have stood together through challenging times; our fates are inextricably intertwined and that prosperity for one is prosperity for the other," he added,

Anifah said in order to make good progress on the CoC, it was important that parties concerned sustain the positive momentum of dialogue and consultation on the issue to promote greater understanding and avoid possible tension.

"Asean and China must also continue to give the right perception to the international community that we are managing the issues peacefully and amicably, to avoid unnecessary attention and intervention from external parties. This includes preventing the undertaking of activities that can raise suspicions and escalate tension," he said.