ASEAN foreign ministers express concern over South China Sea tensions

MANILA (Reuters) – Foreign ministers of Southeast Asia’s regional bloc ASEAN on Saturday expressed their concern over growing tensions in the South China Sea which they said could threaten regional peace and urged for peaceful dialogue among parties.

“We closely follow with concern the recent developments in the South China Sea that may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region,” the bloc’s top diplomats said in a statement.

The statement came as China and the Philippines have traded accusations in recent months over a series of maritime run-ins and as Manila cited the need to change its approach since diplomatic efforts were headed in a “poor direction”.

China has described the accusations as “purely false hype”, and said it will not turn a blind eye to repeated “provocations and harassment” by the Philippines.

ASEAN foreign ministers also reaffirmed the need to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes”.

“We reiterate the importance of peaceful dialogue that contributes constructively to the promotion of regional stability and cooperation in the maritime domain.”

ASEAN and China have worked towards creating a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a plan dating back to 2002. But progress has been slow despite commitment by all parties to advance and speed up the process.

Talks on the components of the code have yet to start amid concerns over China’s willingness to commit to a binding set of rules consistent with international law.

China claims most of the South China Sea through a “nine-dash-line” that loops as far as 1,500 km (900 miles) south of its mainland, cutting into the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

China on Friday named former navy chief Dong Jun as its new defence minister. He previously served as vice-commander in a command which operates in the South China Sea

(Reporting by Mikhail Flores; Editing by Marguerita Choy)