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Indonesia urges South China Sea code of conduct

by Staff Writers
Medana, Indonesia (AFP) Jan 17, 2011
A code of conduct is urgently needed between Beijing and southeast Asian nations to prevent conflict in the South China Sea, Indonesia said Monday.

Nine years have passed since the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China agreed to develop a code of conduct and the time had come for talks to produce results, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.

"There has been plenty of time for the guidelines to be considered," he told reporters in Medana, Lombok, after a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers.

"If we allow the situation ... to remain dormant and inactive it can create unnecessary complications."

Territorial disputes and China's increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea have raised tensions between Beijing and its neighbours, particularly Japan and ASEAN member Vietnam.

The South China Sea is a strategic shipping route and is home to numerous islands that are subject to territorial claims from countries including ASEAN members Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

"The sense of the meeting yesterday is that there must be a greater sense of urgency in finalising guidelines," said Natalegawa.

Indonesia took over the ASEAN chairmanship this year.

"At the same time there's a view that we must also think of other ways and means to ensure that the process of ASEAN-China discussion on the South China Sea continues in an urgent way.

"Inaction is not an option, as I'm often keen to state. Things move on, the world moves on, the region moves on."

Diplomats say a major stumbling block to such a code of conduct is Beijing's reluctance to deal with ASEAN collectively on the issue.

Beijing wants the matter discussed bilaterally with members of ASEAN that have territorial claims, while ASEAN wants to speak as a group.

ASEAN, which is headquartered in Jakarta, also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

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