North Korea, South China Sea to feature on Asean summit agenda

Reuters video journalist Peter Blaza, with assistant Oscar Abunyawan, films a Chinese fishing vessel docked on the mouth of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, on April 6, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Tensions in the Korean peninsula and territorial disputes in the South China Sea will be among the issues on the agenda when Asean leaders meet in Manila next week, Philippine officials said.

Speaking at a briefing yesterday, Department of Foreign Affairs acting spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said the leaders will be discussing "regional and global issues of concern".

"We expect that the South China Sea will be discussed," he said. He added that issues such as North Korea and terrorism are also likely to be on the agenda.

"Whether (President Rodrigo Duterte) will be the one to initiate discussions remains to be seen," he said. Asean foreign ministers have expressed "grave concern" over North Korea's latest missile launches, and called for peace and stability in the Korean peninsula, he added.

On the South China Sea, Mr Bolivar said talks are expected to centre on a framework for a code of conduct (COC), which is meant to reduce the risk of armed confrontations in the disputed waters.

So far, two meetings on the framework - in Bali and Siem Reap - have taken place this year, he added.

"We are very hopeful that we will complete the framework by 2017," he said. Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan had earlier said Asean was looking at concluding the COC framework by June this year.

The framework is expected to incorporate elements that Asean and China agreed on under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, where both sides agreed to "exercise self-restraint" to prevent actions that could "complicate or escalate disputes".

The COC is expected to lay down legally binding rules and guidelines on avoiding conflicts arising from rival claims by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan over all or parts of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of trade passes through each year.

At least 26,000 policemen will be deployed from tomorrow to secure venues for the Asean meetings - scheduled to be held next week from Wednesday to Saturday - after reports of planned attacks by Islamic militants. "That's always No. 1 - to have a zero-incident type of meeting… And we are beefing up our security elements," said the Philippine Ambassador to the United States Marciano Paynor, who is overseeing this year's Asean meetings.

Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Indonesian President Joko Widodo will hold bilateral talks with Mr Duterte on April 27 and April 28, ahead of the April 29 summit, which is expected to be attended by all 10 Asean heads of state.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline North Korea, South China Sea to feature on Asean summit agenda. Subscribe