SINGAPORE: Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to work towards the conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea based on a “mutually-agreed timeline”.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said this on Tuesday (Feb 6) as he hosted his counterparts from across the region for the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat.
The ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight above the South China Sea.
A press statement issued by Singapore as chairman of ASEAN this year said foreign ministers welcomed the improving cooperation between the regional grouping and China.
It said the ministers were encouraged by the conclusion and adoption of the framework of a Code of Conduct, as well as the official start of substantive negotiations towards the conclusion of the code.
Dr Balakrishnan said the timeline for the process has to be agreed by China, and a specific deadline cannot be given.
There are overlapping territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
At the retreat, foreign ministers welcomed practical measures that could reduce tensions, risks of accidents and miscalculation over the issue.
On other regional matters, they also received a briefing from Myanmar on the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State, and voiced support for the country’s humanitarian relief programme.
The ministers stressed the need to find a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root causes of the conflict and create a conducive environment for affected communities to rebuild their homes.
In addition, ministers agreed on the need for ASEAN member states to use innovation and technology to improve the lives of people.
On this front, they expressed support for Singapore’s proposal to create an ASEAN Smart Cities Network.