Asean to call on parties in South China Sea disputes to follow international law

Myanmar welcome the Asean delegates to the Asean Summit 2014. -- PHOTO: ZAOBAO
Myanmar welcome the Asean delegates to the Asean Summit 2014. -- PHOTO: ZAOBAO

Asean takes seriously recent incidents in the South China Sea between China, Vietnam and the Philippines and will issue a statement calling on all parties to act in accordance with international law, Singapore Foreign Minister K Shanmugam said on Saturday in Myanmar.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of Asean foreign ministers at the grouping's 24th summit, Mr Shanmugam said the incidents this week were of "grave concern" and make clear the urgent need for a Code of Conduct to manage disputes in the region.

"There was a unanimous agreement that Asean has to take it seriously, has to issue a stand alone statement, and if Asean did not do so, then Asean's credibility, which has already suffered over the last few years, would be further severely damaged," he said.

"This does not mean Asean has to take sides. Neutrality is not the same as keeping quiet."

Mr Shanmugam said the statement was currently being drafted by senior officials, but did not say when it would be issued.

"It will express our concern at the turn of events, and will ask for everyone to act in accordance with international law," he said.

Earlier this week, ships from Vietnam and China collided in disputed waters off the Paracel Islands, where China wants to set up an oil rig.

In another incident on Tuesday, the Philippines detained 11 crewmen of a Chinese fishing boat near the Spratlys.

The events led the United States to warn against "dangerous conduct and intimidation" in the South China Sea while Singapore urged self-restraint.

In 2012, when there was a similar escalation of tensions over maritime disputes in the resource rich South China Sea, Asean leaders failed to issue a joint communique for the first time, damaging the grouping's credibility.

On Singapore's position on the two incidents this week, he added: "For the benefit of the entire region, there has to be peace. There should be no mishaps. Mishaps can easily get out of hand. Tensions, mishaps. incidents, if they result in disputes becoming larger, it is bad for all of us."