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Sea change sought at forum

The South China Sea is a “critical” issue for ASEAN, with far-reaching implications, international analysts said yesterday as they gathered in the capital to discuss ideas for a resolution.

The territorial dispute is among Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, each of whom lay conflicting claims to the waters off their respective coasts.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the dispute had the potential to “break ASEAN apart” or bring the regional body closer together.

“Even though Cambodia isn’t involved, Cambodia pays much attention as a friend, as an ASEAN member and as chair,” Phay Siphan said.

“We want to do our best to have people come together and talk about these issues and find the best solution in order to ensure regional peace and stability.”

AB Mahapatra, director of the Centre for Asian Strategic Studies – India, which helped sponsor the workshop, said the dispute could create regional instability if it got “out of control”, since the sea was such an important body of water for trade.

In order to prevent such ramifications, CASS – India yesterday offered a 26-point “Code of Conduct” to help solve the dispute, which it hopes will be presented at next month’s ASEAN Summit.

Part of the plan includes creating a “Maritime Security Authority” to serve as the “dispute settlement body” and peacekeeping forces “to verify and investigate incidents”.

The current mechanism to resolve such disputes – the Declaration of Conduct created in 2002 – fails because it is not legally binding, Mahapatra said.

“We are suggesting creating a legally binding mechanism, so once you sign it, you have to observe it,” he said.

“Right now, countries are just not in a position to reach a full and final settlement, it’s not politically feasible. The Code of Conduct is a stepping stone to help reach a larger goal at a later stage,” he added.

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