SE Asia nations, China bring rift to ASEAN summit

The disputes in the S China Sea and N Korea`s planned rocket launch this month are top security worries to be featured in the summit.

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

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.


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