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ASEAN, China should exercise restraint in South China Sea activities: Shanmugam

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Friday (Aug 8) said ASEAN and China should undertake self-restraint in their activities in the South China Sea as spelt out in the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) signed by the two parties in 2002.

NAY PYI TAW: Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Friday (Aug 8) said ASEAN and China should undertake self-restraint in their activities in the South China Sea as spelt out in the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) signed by the two parties in 2002. He was responding to questions from the media about Singapore's position on recent calls made by the US and the Philippines for a moratorium on all activities in the disputed maritime territory.

Mr Shanmugam is in Myanmar attending the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM). ASEAN foreign ministers began their meeting in Nay Pyi Taw on Friday by exchanging views on regional and international issues.

Myanmar's President Thein Sein started the session, urging ASEAN to strengthen its ability to push for a peaceful settlement of disputes. Several ASEAN member countries are embroiled in on-going territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. The Philippines recently called for a moratorium on provocative actions in the disputed territory.

During the meetings on Friday, ASEAN foreign ministers were unable to come to a conclusion on what actions are deemed to be provocative. Mr Shanmugam said: "I think it's difficult to talk about it in vacuum, freeze all activities, and the question is what activities, and if it's disputed how do you define disputed, undisputed.

"But we will need to move on to what steps need to be taken ... the whole purpose is to sit down and work out a COC (Code of Conduct)." He said the COC would work out precisely how to avoid and manage incidents, and that may include stopping some activities. This is something that needs to be discussed, he added.

Tensions in the South China Sea had flared up when China moved an oil rig to the disputed waters in May, but they simmered down after Beijing removed the rigs last month. China has indicated it would like to see progress made in talks on the South China Sea by the end of the year.

Mr Shanmugam said: "China has talked about low hanging fruits and the ministers today discussed and said, look, let's try and catch the momentum in all these things. You always try and see what can be done, but must also be realistic that sometimes not everything that you want can be achieved."

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: "We, in fact, hope to have early harvest in the implementation of the DOC and COC consultation. But what exactly are the low hanging fruits? What I say alone will not count, we have to consult members first. If I identify them now, other members may disagree. So we have to discuss this first on what they are ... But Singapore can give its suggestions."

Foreign Ministers from ASEAN and China will meet on Saturday (Aug 9) and they are expected to discuss the South China Sea territorial dispute. China had earlier this week suggested that more meetings be held to enhance mutual understanding on the issue. China has invited ASEAN's senior officials to meet at a resort city in China next month.

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