Progress on maritime code of conduct disappointing: Shanmugam

ASEAN'S progress towards a code of conduct for the South China Sea has been disappointing, Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said here on Monday.

Singapore will try to push the process along when it takes over as the coordinating country for Asean-China ties later this year, he added.

Speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies at the start of his working visit to the US, Mr Shanmugam said Asean has not even begun to target the low-hanging fruit on the South China Sea issue.

"The real problem is you need both sides to agree that the Code of Conduct is worth doing and should be done at a certain pace," he said. "There hasn't been a clear agreement on the pace those negotiations should proceed. That is why you haven't heard a great deal about what it ought to contain... It is possible to identify some things which are not so controversial... as a first step."

At a separate forum yesterday, he said the need for a code was increasingly urgent given current tensions in the region.

While progress has been slow, he said the code was the best path forward. Referring to the peace plan proposed by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, he noted that it was difficult for countries to agree to develop resources in areas they consider part of their sovereign territory.

He also stressed that the South China Sea issue did not completely define the China-Asean relationship. "Actually, the economic and strategic relationship is very, very significant. And the South China Sea issue is a small part of the overall equation."

jeremyau@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'Progress on maritime code of conduct disappointing: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe