SE Asia nations, China bring rift to ASEAN summit
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Last Updated: Tuesday, April 03, 2012, 17:58
Phnom Penh: New differences could undercut attempts by Southeast Asian countries and China to forge a pact aimed at preventing territorial conflicts from erupting into violence, diplomats said on Tuesday at the start of a regional meeting.

The disputes in the South China Sea and North Korea's planned rocket launch this month are top security worries expected to feature prominently at a two-day summit of Southeast Asian leaders in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Myanmar, meanwhile, was basking in praise from colleagues for its recent democratic reforms. It was a marked reversal for the country, condemned for years for massive human rights violations, from its previous black sheep image at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' annual gathering.

Myanmar President Thein Sein was to brief fellow leaders on Sunday's historic by-elections, which saw pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party sweep to victory.

Cambodia, the 10-nation ASEAN's steward this year, has wanted to focus on nonpolitically volatile issues like the goal of transforming Southeast Asia from a disparate cluster of fledgeling democracies, socialist states and monarchies into a European Union-like bloc that could compete in a bustling region dominated by rising giants such as China and India.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen outlined the financial problems roiling the world, including skyrocketing oil prices, that he said could lash the region if it did not lock arms in unity. He did not touch on controversial security issues.

"ASEAN is facing challenges that need to be addressed in order to realise its objective of 'one community, one destiny,'" Hun Sen said in a speech, mentioning this year's summit theme.

Ahead of the leaders' summit, foreign ministers and senior diplomats discussed a proposal to turn a nonbinding 2002 political declaration into a legally binding "code of conduct" to discourage aggression and prevent armed clashes among China and five other claimants, including ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, in contested South China Sea areas, officials said. Taiwan also makes claims to the South China Sea.

China has said it wants to take part in the drafting of the code with ASEAN. But Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the bloc's members should complete a version among themselves before discussing it with China.

"Our position is we need to draft the COC (code of conduct) and then we're ready to sit down with China, not before," Del Rosario said.

China has rejected arrangements that would force it to negotiate with a bloc of nations over the disputes, preferring one-to-one talks with each claimant.


First Published: Tuesday, April 03, 2012, 17:58

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