Southeast Asian foreign ministers sought yesterday to heal a rift over territorial rows involving China, aiming to build unity ahead of a leaders’ summit in which rights and trade issues are also expected to dominate.
The hot-button South China Sea issue was one of the top items for the ministers as they held a day of talks in the Cambodian capital, following months of acrimony over how to tackle China’s claims to nearly all the waters.
“We wish that we would be able to solve this problem together,” ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said.
“We hope that if there is anything we can do to help to build this new culture of norms ... of new habits of working together, we would like to help,” he said.
Taiwan, as well as ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, have claims to parts of the South China Sea, home of some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels.
China insists it has sovereign rights to virtually all of the sea, and the Philippines and Vietnam have expressed concerns that their giant neighbor has become increasingly aggressive this year in staking its claim.
Some of the countries involved in the talks have seen diplomatic relations plummet this year because of a raft of maritime territorial rows