PHNOM PENH – ASEAN leaders are expected to voice concern over the heated territorial row between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands when they hold their annual summit Sunday in Cambodia, a diplomat of the regional bloc said.
The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in an interview the heads of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations will urge Tokyo and Beijing “to undertake utmost restraint and to address the (Senkaku) issue through peaceful negotiation and dialogue with a view to ensure the maintenance of peace, stability and security in the entire region.”
“The heads of state will express concern on the differences over competing territorial claims in the East China Sea,” the diplomat said, alluding to the sovereignty of the Senkakus, which both China and Taiwan claim.
Aside from the Senkakus row, Beijing is also engaged in escalating disputes with four ASEAN member states — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — over isles and areas in the South China Sea. According to the diplomat, the ASEAN leaders are eager to push for early negotiations with China to craft a legally binding regional code of conduct to reduce territorial and maritime conflicts in these waters.
“ASEAN is ready but China is not. The ball is now in China’s court,” said the diplomat, adding the envisaged code of conduct would be “an important instrument for trust and confidence-building, and for the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.”
The territorial disputes in the South and East China seas have periodically erupted into altercations involving standoffs between the vessels of rival claimants, maritime collisions and even clashes, heightening tensions throughout East Asia.
The conflicting territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea are also causing internal divisions in ASEAN, which also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.
Last July, Cambodia, which is chairing this year’s ASEAN meetings, failed to forge a consensus among its 10 foreign ministers, who for the first time in the organization’s 45-year history failed to issue a joint communique after their annual talks due to disagreements over wording pertaining to South China Sea disputes.
On Myanmar, the diplomat said the ASEAN chiefs will express support for the country’s ongoing economic reforms and democratization while offering support in addressing violence between Buddhists and Muslims that erupted recently in its western state of Rakhine.
In keeping with past summits, the leaders will again call for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to this end urge the early resumption of six-party talks, which comprise South and North Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia. The talks seek to end the North’s atomic weapons quest.
On Monday, the ASEAN heads will hold a special summit with the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea, and on Tuesday will meet with other East Asia Summit leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama.