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China-Vietnam incident "extremely serious": ASEAN chief

ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh has said he views the recent incident between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea as "extremely serious".

NAY PYI TAW: The chief of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday said he views the recent incident between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea as "extremely serious".

ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh, speaking ahead of the 24th ASEAN Summit this weekend, said it is critical for the region to finalise a Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea.

Tensions have recently escalated over the territorial dispute over the South China.

China has accused Vietnam of attacking its ships in the South China Sea, while Philippines and Vietnam said China had been using force against their fishermen and vessels.

ASEAN members such as Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are in maritime territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea.

China claims almost all of the disputed waters, which are said to be rich in oil and gas.

The ASEAN secretary-general said the issue will definitely be up for discussion among the regional leaders.

For the immediate future, Mr Minh hopes to commence substantive consultations on the Code of Conduct between ASEAN and China.

He said: "So far, we have 3 rounds of formal consultations, but we have not been able to start substantive consultations. ASEAN needs to speed up the work to make China commit to the development of early COC.

"We can only try to see if we can get China into South China Sea consultations with the view to the early conclusion of the COC."

The recent political development in Thailand will also be an issue that is likely to crop up at the ASEAN Summit.

Mr Minh said the grouping will emphasise that peace and stability is absolutely critical for the region's growth.

He said: "We are concerned that if this situation, this crisis, prolongs in Thailand, that will affect ASEAN's community building efforts.

"We hope that Thailand can soon get out of this crisis and focus on development, focus on contributing to ASEAN's community building process."

The South China Sea issue may look set to dominate talks at the weekend summit, but Mr Minh believes that regional leaders will stay focused on discussing how to push ahead and achieve an integrated ASEAN community to allow for free flow of goods, services and capital by the end of next year.

This will also be a time for Myanmar to show how capable it is in leading and setting the direction for discussions, as a first-time ASEAN Chair.  

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