Indonesia warned on Wednesday of a “risk of further tensions” between nations with overlapping claims to swathes of the South China Sea if a “collective and common approach” is not soon agreed.
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were split in their views on the maritime dispute during the Phnom Penh meeting of foreign ministers in July, and the bloc for the first time in its 45-year history failed to deliver a joint communique.
“This is an issue that demands Asean’s and China’s collective and common approach and action, otherwise the risk of further tensions are very much ahead of us,” Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters on the sidelines of Asean’s 45th anniversary celebrations.
“In the absence of a code of conduct, we may be risking more incidents in the future.”
Natalegawa toured the region after the Asean summit to push for progress on the long-stalled code of conduct, designed to reduce tensions over fishing, shipping rights and oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will visit Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia from Thursday, and Natalegawa said he hoped to “compare notes on where we are on the South China Sea” with him.
China claims sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims.
Vietnam is scheduled next year to appoint a secretary general to head Asean after the five-year tenure of Thailand’s Surin Pitsuwan comes to an end.
Vietnam frequently trades diplomatic barbs with China over oil exploration, fishing rights and the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which both countries claim as their own.