China's actions may undermine peace in South China Sea: Asean

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Chinese island-building efforts "may undermine peace, security and stability" in the disputed South China Sea, said a statement by South-east Asian leaders meeting for a summit on Monday.

The statement, yet to be publicly released, was prepared on behalf of leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) gathering in Malaysia for an annual meeting.

"We share the serious concerns expressed by some leaders on the land reclamation being undertaken in the South China Sea, which has eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability," it said.

Monday's summit in Kuala Lumpur opens under a cloud caused by fresh evidence in the form of recently released satellite photos showing the scale of Chinese land reclamation.

They depict flotillas of Chinese vessels heaping huge amounts of sand on fragile coral reefs also claimed by the Philippines.

Asean members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the sea, which is rich in energy reserves, fishery resources, and is a vital conduit for much of world trade.

But Beijing claims nearly all of it, and its increasingly bold actions to underline those claims have caused fears of Chinese dominance of the waterway and potential armed conflict.

The chairman's statement by Malaysia - which holds the rotating chair of Asean this year - instructs the region's foreign ministers to "urgently address this matter" under dialogue mechanisms set up between the bloc and China.

The Philippines on Sunday challenged fellow members of Asean to "finally stand up" to Beijing and demand an end to reclamation works.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario warned his regional peers in a precursor meeting that China was poised to take "de facto control" of the strategic seaway.

But his Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman had later brushed aside any expectations of an especially bold Asean final statement.

Despite its rhetoric of a united Asean community, the regional grouping has a history of failing to respond in a robust manner to Beijing due to China's immense trade and diplomatic leverage and because not all Asean states have a stake in the maritime disputes.