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Heated debate over hot global issues at Asean regional forums

EVENTS IN the South China Sea, North Korea and Ukraine dominated a heated series of Asean post-ministerial meetings in Myanmar's capital yesterday as major world powers played diplomatic games and blamed each other.

Foreign ministers of 10 Asean countries sat together with their counterparts from various parts of the world, including the United States, the European Union, China, India, Japan, Australia and Russia.

Different forums - notably the 18-member East Asia Summit (EAS) and the 27-member Asean Regional Forum (ARF) - vigorously discussed the same three hot regional and global issues.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop took the floor in the EAS meeting to condemn the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH 17. Many Australians were among the 298 passengers who died. Bishop named Russia, which was represented in the meeting by Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, for involvement in Ukraine, said a source who attended the meeting.

Western countries are moving to have a United Nations resolution on the matter to bring to justice those involved in firing the Russian-made missile that brought down the commercial flight in rebel-controlled Eastern Ukraine.

Ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand raised the point that geo-political conflicts in other parts of the world could affect countries in Asean. The group should become involved, seeking roles to address the problems and find solutions, they said.

Security threat

Ministers from many countries blamed North Korea for violating a UN resolution by testing a missile that posed a security threat in the Korean Peninsula. They urged Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks to seek a peaceful solution.

Thai Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow, who acts as foreign minister, told the meeting to create the conditions and comfortable environment for the resumption of the six-party talks.

US Secretary of State John Kerry proposed that the conflicting claimant states find solutions together and prevent escalation of tension in the South China Sea. He suggested freezing all provocative activities, which could fuel conflict in the troubled region, but China and Asean failed to react to the proposal.

China earlier rejected a similar proposal from the Philippines to have a moratorium on specific activities that escalate tension in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said his government had a clear policy for a dual-track approach to deal with the South China Sea issue. "Dual track" involves consultation with conflicting states while engaging the entire Asean organisation in a code of conduct for good practices in the region.

The Asean-China Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed in 2002 but the non-binding document has failed to prevent conflict and tension.

With Thai coordination, Asean is now engaging with China to have a legally binding code of conduct. Sihasak told the meeting that Asean and China had reached common ground to draw up a code of conduct, intensify consultations on South China Sea matters to prevent and reduce tension in the region.


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