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ASEAN concerned over South China Sea

Southeast Asian foreign ministers say they remain seriously concerned over recent developments which have increased tensions in the South China Sea. This was expressed in a joint communique issued on Sunday (Aug 10) on the final day of meetings in Myanmar.

NAY PYI TAW, Myanmar: Southeast Asian foreign ministers say they remain seriously concerned over recent developments which have increased tensions in the South China Sea. This was expressed in a joint communique issued on Sunday (Aug 10) on the final day of meetings in Myanmar.

Singapore's Foreign Minister K Shanmugam said the communique took a lot of effort and honest brokering from countries that had no direct claims on the disputed waters, but the outcome had been "fair and sensible".

On Sunday, foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met their regional counterparts for the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. For the past three days, territorial disputes in the South China Sea had been a hot topic at the meetings.

The Philippines, a claimant state in the troubled waters, had made a call to cease all activities to ease tensions. The United States, too, had suggested a similar moratorium earlier.

Mr Shanmugam said: "The US put forward very strongly its view that there should be a moratorium on actions in South China Sea. The US acknowledged that what that moratorium is, needs to be defined. I don't think China quite agrees to a moratorium. It's also not clear how many of the claimant states have fully agreed to an idea of moratorium. I think, they think that some of the points need to be clarified a bit more."

China had also expressed its hope that US can respect China's legitimate rights and interests in the region. On its part, the US said it will not take sides on the issue of the South China Sea. What it hopes is peace and stability in the region.

The recent downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 was also discussed at the meetings. Australia had very strong words on what happened and the delay in access being given to the investigators. Russia was also at the table and could hear the sentiments expressed. In its communique, ASEAN said more needs to be done to "ensure all remains may be gathered and repatriated as soon as possible in a dignified manner".

Besides discussing issues troubling the region, the foreign ministers also took the opportunity to push positive agenda. "In fact, the bulk of the discussions are on the positive things," said Mr Shanmugam.

"This region is booming, it is growing at above world growth rates, its inter-connectivity with China, with the US, with Australia - all extremely important. Trade is growing, investments are growing, and we want to create an environment that is suitable for all of that," he said. Mr Shanmugam also applauded Myanmar for being a fair and exceptional chair at the meetings.

On the whole, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meetings and other related meetings held in Myanmar went on smoothly over the past three days. The failure to issue a joint communique two years ago in Cambodia is still fresh in ASEAN's mind, and Myanmar as chair this year was determined not to let that happen again. Myanmar next prepares to host the ASEAN leaders' summit later this year.

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