MANILA (Alliance News) – South-East Asian foreign ministers gathered in the Philippines on Saturday for an annual meeting overshadowed by concerns over tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the disputed South China Sea.
The ministers of the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations are to discuss how to “deliver a strong message to North Korea” which has faced mounting international condemnation over its missile tests, said Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.?
Cayetano said ASEAN was concerned about tensions in the Korean Peninsula, which could impact on the region’s stability and prosperity.
But he also noted that the regional bloc, which is celebrating its 50th founding anniversary on Tuesday, was known for being a platform for “peaceful settlements of disputes”.
“Despite the fact that sometimes there are complicated and sensitive matters between us…we have found a way to live peacefully and give our region peace and stability,” he said, citing ASEAN’s principles?of dialogue, consensus, cooperation and non-interference.
“We now enjoy peace, security and ?stability in the region largely due to ASEAN’s key role as a platform for constructive dialogue, consulations and confidence building? among its members and ASEAN’s external partners,” he added.
During their meeting, the ASEAN ministers were expected to endorse a framework that would guide negotiations between the regional grouping and China for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a potential flashpoint in the region.
The ministers are to direct senior officials to “begin?earnest discussions on a substantive and effective code of conduct” aimed at preventing armed confrontation in the disputed sea, according to a draft joint statement.
According to the framework, the code of conduct “is not an instrument to settle territorial disputes or maritime delimitation issues”.
Instead, the code would promote “mutual trust, cooperation and confidence, prevent incidents, manage incidents should they occur and create a favourable environment for the peaceful resolution of disputes.”
The ASEAN ministers? were also scheduled to meet their dialogue partners, including the US, Japan, China and Russia, for Asia’s largest security forum on Monday.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was expected to galvanize condemnation of North Korea and call for a “serious discussion” on suspending the country from the ASEAN Regional Forum as part of efforts to further isolate Pyongyang.
Cayetano said he believed it was “better that people talk” when asked about the possible US proposal against North Korea.
“You can talk harshly in front of your colleagues in ASEAN . because we will have retreats and we will have areas that will be closed door,” he said Friday. “But the less we talk, the more grave the situation can become.”
On July 28, North Korea test-fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile and said that all the US mainland was now within its range. Pyongyang first undertook its first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4.
Tests by North Korea of two nuclear bombs and various missiles have increased tensions on the Korean peninsula since the start of last year.