By Genalyn Kabiling
BANGKOK — Leaders of the Southeast Asian bloc have called for the non-militarization and self-restraint in the South China Sea to ease tension stemming from territorial disputes.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued the call amid concerns about the land reclamation and other activities in the disputed waters during the summit talks over the weekend.
“We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS,” Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also this year’s ASEAN chairman, said in a statement at the end of the regional summit.
“We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self- restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, including those mentioned in the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea,” he said.
The ASEAN leaders have reaffirmed the importance of keeping peace, stability, and freedom of navigation in and flight above the South China Sea and recognized the benefits of having the South China Sea as “a sea of peace, stability and prosperity. ”
According to Prayut, the regional bloc discussed matters related to the South China Sea and recognized “some concerns on the land reclamations and activities in the area.” These activities have “eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” he added.
Four ASEAN members, namely the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, and China have overlapping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea. China has been criticized for the building of artificial islands and militarizing the disputed area in recent years.
The ASEAN leaders have also called for the early conclusion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea during the summit in Bangkok.
“We warmly welcomed the continued improving cooperation between ASEAN and China and were encouraged by the progress of the substantive negotiations towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) within a mutually-agreed timeline,” Prayut said.
The leaders also welcomed efforts to complete the first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text by this year, according to the Thai leader.
“We emphasized the need to maintain an environment conducive to the COC negotiations, and thus welcomed practical measures that could reduce tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings and miscalculation,” he said.
“We stressed the importance of undertaking confidence building and preventive measures to enhance, among others, trust and confidence amongst parties,” he added.