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Philippines urges ASEAN meet on disputed islands


MANILA THE Philippines has urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to hold a summit of China and five other Asian claimants to try to resolve long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Sunday he asked his ASEAN counterparts during an annual meeting in Cambodia last week to back the Philippines’ call for the 10- member bloc to organise such a summit “as soon as possible.” Manila is ready to host the unprecedented meeting, he said.

The Philippines and fellow ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands, which are believed to have undersea deposits of oil and gas.

The islands, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan, straddle busy sea lanes and rich fishing grounds. Many fear the disputes could be Asia’s next flash point for armed conflict.

The Philippines last year proposed segregating nondisputed Spratly territories from disputed ones, which it said could be turned into common areas where China and other claimants could undertake joint activities such as search and rescue drills to build trust while the disputes continue.

A resolution of the conflicts should be based on internationally accepted rules such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, del Rosario said. “ASEAN is at a critical juncture of playing a momentous role for the resolution of the disputes,” del Rosario said.

China has frowned on any solution involving other countries, specially nonclaimants like the United States, which has declared that a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes is in its national interest.

Beijing wants to negotiate directly with each claimant.

Senior Chinese and ASEAN diplomats met in Beijing over the weekend to discuss newly agreed guidelines on pursuing joint confidence- building projects in the Spratly region but did not tackle possible solutions to the territorial conflicts.

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