Last update 7/18/2011 6:00:00 AM (GMT+7)

ASEAN forum to call for diplomacy over East Sea disputes
VietNamNet Bridge - An ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) chairman's statement this week is likely to call for preventative diplomacy to arrest an escalation of territorial spats with China in the South China Sea (East Sea), according to Nikkei newspaper.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and the U.S., are scheduled to meet next week in Bali to discuss security issues in Asia.

China is opposed to the forum taking up the maritime disputes, while ASEAN members involved in the rows, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, wish to solve the matter in cooperation with countries such as Japan and the U.S.

The chairman's statement -- expected on July 23 -- is likely to stress that ARF should play an important role in regional stability, in an apparent bid to expand the forum's role. The statement is also expected to call for a focus on preventative diplomacy, and for participating nations to consider steps to avoid disputes.

In reference to the spats, the statement will probably specifically mention China, saying that a peaceful, friendly and harmonious environment is needed between China and ASEAN. It will also call for the pursuit of regional peace, stability, economic development and prosperity.

According to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, over 1,000 delegates from 27 countries will join the ARF, the largest security meeting in Southeast Asia in Bali, Indonesia this week.

Deputy Prime Minister cum Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Gia Khiem will lead a Vietnamese delegation to the 18th ASEAN Regional Forum ARF 18, the 44th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM 44) and the Post Ministerial Conference (PMC which will be held in Indonesia from July 19-23.

This year’s meetings are among the most important annual events of ASEAN Foreign Ministries and their partners. This is the time for devising the orientation and placing priority o­n ASEAN cooperation and the relationship between the bloc and its partners.

ASEAN Foreign Ministers will discuss measures to boost ASEAN cooperation as well as regional and global issues of common concern.

The meetings also act as preparation for the ASEAN Summit at the end of 2011.

Vietnam’s participation is aimed at encouraging ASEAN solidarity, expanding and deepening the relationship between ASEAN and its partners, reinforcing ASEAN’s role in the region, and raising Vietnam’s role and status.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan told Kyodo News that the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China are expected to finalize the guidelines to implement a declaration of conduct among countries involved in disputes in the East Sea this year.

According to Surin, ASEAN and China have achieved ''a sense of common urgency'' that they can and will manage the differences on the East Sea peacefully.

''This is a critical moment for ASEAN and China to send their signal out to the world, because it has been an issue of high anxiety of the global community,'' the secretary general said.

''We have common responsibility to bring down that anxiety because East Asia has been so important, critical to the health of the global community -- economic health, peace and security,'' he added.

China and other ASEAN dialogue partners will join the group in the ASEAN Regional Forum on July 23 to discuss regional security issues, including the East Sea disputes between some ASEAN member countries and China.

ASEAN and China agreed on the DOC in 2002 to ensure the peaceful resolution of disputes in strategic sea lanes, but they need to establish a code of conduct that is legally binding.

China, however, has been reluctant to enter into a binding agreement.

Indonesia has proposed guidelines to implement cooperation between its Southeast Asian neighbors and China, in an apparent effort to ease the tension, by providing more detailed paragraphs compared to a draft currently discussed by ASEAN and China, ASEAN diplomatic sources said.

The guidelines are expected to be discussed during the ASEAN-China senior officials' meeting Wednesday that may take place before the ASEAN-China foreign ministerial meeting on Bali on Thursday.

The sources said that under the guidelines both sides may explore or undertake cooperative activities such as environmental protection, search and rescue operations and combating transnational crime on a voluntary basis and in a step-by-step approach.

With joint cooperative activities, it is expected mutual trust and understanding can be built, tension can be eased and China's position may soften.

All or parts of the East Sea, which contains some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and is believed to be rich in oil and gas, are claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Tensions also rose this year between China and the Philippines as well as between China and Vietnam after China conducted provoking actions against Vietnamese and Filipino ships.

China has insisted it will only talk to each of the claimant countries on a bilateral basis, but the much smaller claimants see that position as a way for China to impose its might on them.

Many of them would rather that the claims be discussed and settled multilaterally, where the talks might be on a more equal basis.

China's insistence on bilateral talks means many observers doubt any breakthrough in the territorial disputes will be coming soon.

Despite China's objection to other countries' intervention in this matter, U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton may raise the issue during a meeting with her counterparts in the ARF on Saturday.

''The U.S. position is that they are interested in the stability, security, the free passage because...they have their vessels moving around the region,'' Surin said of U.S. concerns about the dispute.

In July last year, China complained when Clinton told the ARF ministerial meeting in Vietnam that the peaceful resolution of disputes in the East Sea is in the U.S. national interest. Although the United States takes no official position on the conflicting sovereignty claims in the region, it insists on unfettered access to sea lanes through the East Sea, she said.

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

The ARF brings together foreign ministers from ASEAN and such countries as North and South Korea, China, Japan, the United States, India and Russia.

Thai An – Chung Hoang