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ASEAN foreign ministers discuss South China Sea

ASEAN foreign ministers discuss South China Sea

| @indiablooms | 31 Jul 2019, 02:52 pm

Bangkok, July 31 (UNI): Foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations discussed tensions in the South China Sea and the Rohingya refugee crisis at a meeting here on Wednesday.

The ministers met ahead of their talks with their counterparts from dialogue partner countries such as India on Thursday, followed by the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum, focused on security issues, on Friday.

A joint communique issued after the morning meeting said: "Concerns were expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations, activities and serious incidents in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region."

In the South China Sea, some ASEAN members have overlapping claims with China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire region and has reclaimed a number of disputed reefs and built airstrips and other military facilities there over the past few years.

"We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law," the communique said.

The ministers also welcomed progress in negotiations between ASEAN and China on coming up with a code of conduct among claimants in the South China Sea to manage tensions, which they hope will reach fruition by 2021.

"We warmly welcomed the continued improving cooperation between ASEAN and China, and were encouraged by the progress of the substantive negotiations towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea within a mutually-agreed timeline," the document said.

Later in the day at a meeting with his ASEAN counterparts, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said both sides have "a strong resolve to advance consultations", having already "streamlined the text and established a clearer architecture and elements".

The ASEAN ministers also discussed efforts to achieve the early voluntary repatriation to Myanmar's Rakhine State of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims now in refugee camps in Bangladesh, as well as to ensure their livelihoods after they return.

"We stressed the importance of and reiterated our continued support for Myanmar's commitment to ensure safety and security for all communities in Rakhine State as effectively as possible and facilitate the voluntary return of displaced persons in a safe, secure and dignified manner," the communique said.

Earlier, speaking at the opening ceremony of the 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers' and related meetings, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said ASEAN must strengthen cooperation with its Dialogue Partners. Thailand chairs the regional bloc this year.

India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will co-chair the ASEAN-India Ministerial Meeting with his Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai on Thursday and review the progress in the implementation of the key decisions of the leaders of ASEAN Member States (AMS) and India arrived at during the 25th anniversary ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit held in New Delhi in January last year.


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