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‘Language’ holds up South China Sea pact

The world is watching ASEAN foreign ministers as they scramble to reach a consensus on a regional Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, officials at the summit in Phnom Penh acknowledged yesterday.

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that consensus among ASEAN members was a “work in progress”. “We are getting there,” he said.

The major hold-up is “agreement on language,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Kao Kim Hourn said at a press conference yesterday evening.

“The foreign ministers are working on their joint communiqué, but are working on agreement on the language.”

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said ASEAN discussions on the CoC were already having a “calming affect” on the international community.

“The fact that they are all committed to work on the code of conduct seriously in good faith . . . we have already achieved a milestone,” Pitsuwan said. “Earlier on, there was a reluctance on some parties to engage or not to engage and to engage … informally or engage periodically.”

Earlier in the week, ASEAN officials announced that officials had already drafted key elements of the CoC and these elements would then be taken to informal discussion with China.

However, China’s Vice Foreign Minister, Fu Ying, told reporters that there had been a “suggestion” from ASEAN ministers to launch discussions with China on the Code.

“The Chinese minister would like to give a serious consideration of the proposals for exploring the possibilities of a discussion of CoC,” Ying said, stressing that engagement would hinge on all members of ASEAN obeying and implementing the current Declaration of Conduct.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bridget Di Certo at bridget.dicerto@phnompenhpost.com
Cheang Sokha at cheang.sokha@phnompenhpost.com

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