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South China Sea tensions are "of grave concern": K Shanmugam

Escalating tensions in the South China Sea over the last few days are a "matter of grave concern,” said Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Saturday.

NAY PYI TAW: Escalating tensions in the South China Sea over the last few days are a "matter of grave concern,” said Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Saturday.

He was speaking to the media on the sidelines of the 24th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Myanmar.

A single-page statement on the situation has also been issued, urging parties to resolve disputes peacefully without resorting to or threatening the use of force.

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

Mr Shanmugam said not issuing a statement would further dent ASEAN's credibility, and the regional bloc cannot afford to keep quiet while the issue is brewing.

Drafted by senior officials, the statement urged all parties to abide by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which spells out the rights and responsibilities of nations in using the world's oceans.

It also emphasised the need for an early conclusion to a South China Sea Code of Conduct.

Mr Shanmugam said: "What you really want is a code that determines how countries behave with each other, how you go about handling disputes... By-and-large, if you can have some kind of code, it helps reduce the possibility of mishaps."

Mr Shanmugam added that for the benefit of the entire region, there should be peace and no mishaps.

Turning to the issue of haze from Indonesian forest fires, which has regularly affected Singapore, Mr Shanmugam said the use of a haze monitoring system will help identify those responsible for the fires and bring them to justice.

He added: "We hoped that Indonesia could ratify the ASEAN treaty on transboundary haze pollution. We pointed out that progress on the implementation of the ASEAN haze monitoring system has not been particularly rapid."

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore stands ready to offer its help in implementing the system.

As for the political unrest in Thailand with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dismissed from office for abuse of power, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore and others wish to see a peaceful solution that helps the kingdom.

On the whole, leaders in the region are moving towards integrating the ASEAN community by 2015. Mr Shanmugam said that while full-integration may not be achieved by end-2015, it is important to press on with efforts. Any progress made in this area is expected to boost business and people-to-people links within Southeast Asia.

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