South China Sea dispute:  ASEAN leaders not to take situation for granted

Manila, Nov 13: Southeast Asian nations will not take a relative calm in the dispute over the South China Sea for granted, according to a draft of a statement to be issued during a summit meeting in Manila Monday.

The statement will be issued after a meeting between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Philippines capital, a diplomatic source said.

“While the situation is calmer now, we cannot take the current progress for granted,” said the draft, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

“It is mportant that we cooperate to maintain peace, stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the SCS (South China Sea), in accordance with international law. It is in our collective interest to avoid miscalculations that could lead to escalation of tensions.”

Almost all of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, is claimed by China. Taiwan and four ASEAN nations – Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei – have competing claims.

Leaders from China, the United States and seven other nations are joining ASEAN at its annual summit.

US President Donald Trump said Sunday he was prepared to mediate between claimants to the disputed South China Sea.

Asked about his comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that China upheld resolving the issue via talks with the countries directly involved and to uphold the peace and stability of the South China Sea.

The situation in the South China Sea was generally stable and heading in the right direction with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, he said.

Countries in the region were willing and able to appropriately handle the South China Sea issue, Geng added.

“At the same time, we also hope that countries outside the region can respect efforts by countries in the region to protect peace and stability in the South China Sea and play a constructive role in this regard.”

He did not elaborate, but China has been angered in the past by freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea, and comments on the issue, by the United States which it sees as provocative.

Sunday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte suggested that, despite their differences, the leaders should not discuss the South China Sea. (Reuters)

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