ASEAN Nations Mull Over South China Sea Dispute

Posted November 19th, 2012 at 1:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Southeast Asian leaders are meeting in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, for a summit aimed at strengthening political and economic ties, despite tense territorial disputes with China.

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations split on how to handle the South China Sea dispute.

ASEAN chair and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the leaders agreed to not internationalize the issue, and would confine negotiations to those between the bloc and China and not include outside parties. He said ASEAN would ask China to start talks as soon as possible on the matter, including a legally binding code of conduct aimed at preventing hostilities.

But Philippines President Benigno Aquino said no consensus had been reached and his country reserves the right to defend its national interests when necessary. An indication he could call for U.N. or U.S. help in the dispute.

China Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang said any negotiations on the matter will take time.

“It takes some time for you know for China and ASEAN to talk about, discuss COC and this is not a wasting of time because during the discussion we can build up and accumulate more consensus and mutual trust.”

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as China have claims to parts of the mineral-rich South China Sea.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Cambodia where he met the 10 ASEAN leaders. He also met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and raised concerns about long-standing human-rights problems, as well as, the need for Cambodia to hold free and fair elections and end land seizures.

On Sunday, the ASEAN leaders adopted a non-binding declaration they say will guarantee human rights protections for the population of the region. But rights groups say the declaration contains loopholes that could allow authoritarian governments such at Vietnam and Laos to skirt the agreement.

The 10 ASEAN members are host Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand.