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Manila urges Asean to stop Beijing in South China Sea

Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario has urged Asean to 'stand up' to China by urging it to halt its reclamation work

KUALA LUMPUR // The Philippines on Sunday urged its fellow South-east Asian countries to take immediate steps to halt land reclamation by China in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, warning that failure to do so will see Beijing take “de facto control” of the area.

Malaysia’s foreign minister Anifah Aman, however, said that the 10-member Association of South-east Asian Nations will avoid confrontation with China and continue negotiations with Beijing on a binding code of conduct that would govern behaviour in the area.

Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario told a meeting of Asean foreign ministers that if China’s construction of artificial islands on reefs claimed by other countries is allowed to be completed, Beijing will impose its claim over more than 85 per cent of the sea.

Mr Rosario urged Asean to “stand up” to China by urging it to halt its reclamation work, which threatened to militarise the region, infringe on rights of other states and damage the marine environment.

“The threats posed by these massive reclamations are real and cannot be ignored or denied,” he said. “Asean should assert its leadership, centrality and solidarity. Asean must show the world that it has the resolve to act in the common interest.”

China, Taiwan and Asean members Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, which includes busy sea lanes and rich fishing grounds, and is believed to have large undersea deposits of oil and natural gas.

The group of nations has maintained a cautious stand in the dispute to avoid angering China, a key trading partner.

Malaysia’s Mr Aman said that Asean is “very much concerned” about the reclamation, but that sending an ultimatum to China to stop work could backfire and hurt peace and stability in the region.

“It will be much appreciated if China can stop work and sit down with Asean countries to find a solution,” he said. “Asean must send the right signal and make the right move. We must avoid any measures that are counterproductive either to ourselves or to China.”

Officials from Asean and China are scheduled to meet in May and June to discuss the issue.

* Associated Press

Published: April 26, 2015 04:00 AM

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