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'Economic pacts' may ease South China Sea row

Manila calls on Beijing to become responsible

An economic approach to the South China Sea issue will turn the conflict into cooperation for mutual benefit, former Thai foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai proposed at the Asean Peace and Reconcilation forum yesterday.

During closed-door talks, the "functional cooperation" roundtable explored the possibility of establishing joint development areas and groundwork leading to building mutual trust and shared benefits among countries that are feuding over disputed territorial claims in the sea. An example of a functional cooperation addressed by the panel was the success story of the Malaysia-Thailand joint development area in the Gulf of Thailand.

As the chair of Asean this year, Myanmar is a facilitator for discussions on the issue.

"Myanmar wishes to see the competing claims resolved peacefully and would like to take every opportunity to facilitate meetings between the claimants," Myanmar deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw said.

In attendance at the dialogue were former diplomats and policy-makers of claimant countries, including China, and non-claimant countries. Academics were also present.

China's former foreign minister Li Zhaoxing called on all sides to respect the basic principles of the UN Charter, adding that it was not right to form a group of countries with shared views to go against China.

"I believe all the countries should abide by the basic principles of the UN Charter. That is, the UN is for maintaining world peace," Li said in an interview with The Nation.

"One of the principles is no interference in other countries' internal affairs.

"How can one country, no matter how strong or how powerful it is, have the right to interfere in other countries' domestic matters or internal affairs."

Meanwhile, the Philippines urged China to take the lead role in upholding and promoting international law.

"It must take courage and goodwill from all sides in order to arrive at an agreement with China on this issue," said Raphael Lotilla, former secretary of energy of the Philippines.

"I hope that since China is an economic power, it can provide responsible leadership to the region."

The results of the forum will likely be raised at a meeting between the region's leaders at the Asean Summit and East Asia Summit in November.


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