ASEAN SUMMIT

Asean seeking to resolve sea row 'through peaceful means'

ASEAN was cool on Filipino efforts to censure China over reclamation work in disputed areas of the South China Sea, saying yesterday it would instead try to convince the superpower that a confrontation over one of the world's busiest shipping routes would not benefit the Asian giant.

Asean chairman Najib Razak said the organisation would seek to resolve disputes "through peaceful means" even though the Malaysian Prime Minister stressed "universally recognised principles of international law... and the full adherence to the Declaration of Conduct (DOC)", a document signed by the four South-east Asian claimants and China in 2002.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino had told leaders of the 10-nation bloc earlier yesterday that "the massive reclamation activities undertaken by China pose a threat to the security and stability of the region".

"It is clear: These massive reclamations are direct violations of the DOC and Unclos, and represent a significant challenge to Asean centrality," he said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

But Datuk Seri Najib told reporters "Asean's non-confrontational approach has been very effective in ensuring there will be no rising tension in this region".

"China understands our position and we hope to be able to influence China that it is also to their interest not to be seen as confronting Asean. Any attempt to destabilise this region will not benefit China either," he said at a press conference after the first session of the Asean Summit in the capital, before flying to Langkawi for the second half of the retreat.

The Philippines had warned last Saturday that China had reclaimed enough land on two reefs in the Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea to muscle the Philippines out of the area, and that Beijing will soon take "de facto control" of the disputed waters unless Asean stands up to its much larger neighbour.

A new set of high-resolution images - taken on April 13 by satellite mapping firm DigitalGlobe and released last Saturday by current affairs website The Diplomat - shows that in just 10 weeks from Feb 6, the Chinese have built an island on Subi Reef spanning over 3km. China is also expanding its reclamation across the northern rim of Mischief Reef, along a relatively straight portion with dimensions that can also support a landing strip 3km long.

According to Reuters, Malaysia might give in to pressure from some neighbours and address the reclamation by its largest trading partner with a draft statement closing the summit saying such action could undermine peace, security and stability.

shannont@sph.com.sg