SINGAPORE: China and ASEAN have “affirmed the hope” to complete the code of conduct to handle disputes in the South China Sea, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Saturday (Feb 17).
Speaking at the 54th Munich Security Conference roundtable in Germany, Dr Ng stressed that the approach of ASEAN member states to South China Sea issues has been “a pragmatic one”.
He noted that the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which ASEAN and China signed in 2002, took more than five years, and that this “frames our expectations for the code of conduct”.
"In the meantime, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) has worked hard to produce consensus on practical measures that prevent mishaps and miscalculations, or if there are, to de-escalate issues," Dr Ng said.
He highlighted that there have been at least 38 reported small-scale incidents between claimant states' ship in the South China Sea since 2013. Dr Ng noted that many of these incidents involved fishing vessels that were eventually resolved peacefully.
Singapore, as ASEAN Chair for 2018, hopes to develop a set of guidelines for air encounters between regional military aircraft, he added.
“We seek to enhance practical cooperation and build confidence through the conduct of multilateral exercises, including the ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise this year,” Dr Ng said.
Dr Ng noted that an estimated one-third of all global shipping passed through the South China Sea.
"All countries have recognised the critical need for peace and stability in these waters," he said.