Kerry and Minh discussed WPS issue

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US Secretary of State John Kerry and Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh underlined the importance of “exercising self-restraint” in view of the “complicated developments” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) where China’s perceived aggressiveness has become a concern for the international community.

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According to a statement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Kerry paid a courtesy call to Minh and other senior officials at the Asean’s headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia to discuss US-Asean relations “and other regional issues of mutual interests and concern.”

Part of their discussions touched on the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea, a resource-rich region and a vital sea lane for global trade.

They both agreed on “the need for respect for international law,” which includes the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), a 1982 treaty that delineates the maritime territories of coastal states.

China and the Philippines are signatories to the accord.

Kerry and Minh also reaffirmed the importance of the bloc’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea, as well as the urgency of the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct (COC) and the importance of exercising self-restraint.

The principles were drafted in a bid to urge Beijing to negotiate with Asean as a bloc regarding the conclusion of the COC, whose basis is enshrined in the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) between China and Asean.

The COC, though it is without a dispute settlement mechanism, aims to counter aggressive actions in the region and urges all claimant-states to ensure peace and stability in the resource-rich waters.

Asean is composed of the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam.

Together with China and Taiwan, four Asean members–the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei–are claimants to the land and water features of the West Philippine Sea.

China and Taiwan claim 90 percent of the region.

Meanwhile, aside from their discussions regarding the West Philippine Sea, Minh also welcomed Kerry and expressed appreciation to the United States for its continued support for Asean Community building efforts, as well as Asean’s centrality and unity.

As one of the most important major partners of Asean, the secretary-general said the United States’ support and assistance “has effectively complemented Asean’s efforts to achieve the target of establishing an Asean Community by 2015.”

For his part, Kerry stressed that the US remains at the core of Washington’s rebalance to Asia strategy, which came a decade after the US’ preoccupation on its war against terror campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US official said Washington will remain committed to enhancing cooperation with the 10-member bloc in the fields of “trade and investment, education, narrowing the development gaps, climate change and disaster management, connectivity, and support for Myanmar’s chairmanship of Asean.”

He also informed the Asean secretary-general that President Barack Obama is looking forward to attending the Second Asean-US Summit later this year in Myanmar.

Kerry was in Jakarta as part of his Asian tour to meet with senior government officials and address a range of bilateral, regional and global issues relevant to US’ enhanced engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.

Last year, he attended the First Asean-US Summit in Brunei Darussalam to represent President Obama.

The United States has been a dialogue partner of Asean since 1977.

“Both sides have maintained active cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, regional security, disaster management, education, and governance,” the statement said.

BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON

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