Asean wants warships out of South China Sea

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah meets Australian Foreign Affairs and Women Minister Marise Payne on the sidelines of the 52nd Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Post Ministerial Conferences and Related Meetings in Bangkok. (Bernama pic)

BANGKOK: Asean countries have expressed their concern over the rising tensions caused by the presence of warships in the South China Sea, said Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

He said the regional grouping wants fewer warships in the disputed waters to ensure peace and stability, safety and freedom of navigation.

“It is a free passage but when there are too many warships, we are worried,” he told Bernama here today on the sidelines of the 52nd Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Post Ministerial Conferences and Related Meetings (52nd AMM/PMC) which ended here today.

Saifuddin said Asean foreign ministers stressed the importance of non-militarisation in the South China Sea.

Tensions have flared as China test-fired anti-ship ballistic missiles in disputed areas of the resource-rich waterway last month, while Vietnam accused China of violating its sovereignty by interfering with its offshore oil and gas activities.

In June, a Philippine fishing boat anchored off a disputed seamount – believed to hold large quantities of oil and natural gas – sank after it was rammed by a Chinese boat.

On Wednesday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Asean and Beijing had completed the first reading of the single draft negotiating text for a code of conduct (CoC).

Wang said it was an important progress in the CoC talks and marked a critical step towards the goal of concluding the consultations within three years.

Saifuddin also said navigation activities should be reduced in areas of the South China Sea where there are overlapping claims.

“As we discuss CoC, there are also other activities taking place in one or two (disputed) islands in the South China Sea,” he said.

On the Asean foreign ministers’ meeting, he said Malaysia put forward its views on regional and international issues.

“We had a good outing. Asean is an important platform to talk and discuss world peace and international trade,” he said.

Saifuddin also held separate bilateral meetings with his counterparts to discuss bilateral relations, regional cooperation, the situation in Rakhine state and regional security issues.