HER Royal Highness Princess Hajah Masna, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, yesterday attended the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) Retreat in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.
HRH later attended a luncheon with other Asean Foreign Ministers at the Gayana Eco Resort, Malohom Bay, Gaya Island.
The AMM Retreat was the first Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to be held this year under the chairmanship of Malaysia. The retreat was chaired by Dato’ Sri Anifah Haji Aman, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia.
The Asean Foreign Ministers exchanged views on the follow-up to the 25th Asean Summit, Asean Community’s Post-2015 Vision, Asean’s External Relations, as well as regional and international issues.
The Asean Foreign Ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability in South China Sea, where China and several Asean countries are involved in territorial disputes, Bernama reported.
In this context, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister said that the retreat shared the concern raised by some Asean Foreign Ministers on land reclamation in the South China Sea. However, Anifah who chaired the retreat did not name those ministers who have raised their concern regarding the matter.
“The ministers instructed senior officials to intensify efforts towards achieving the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC),” he said.
Anifah said they also instructed the officials to work vigorously towards the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).
Asean member countries, and China signed the DOC in 2002, a fundamental document for maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea.
In the declaration, among others, the parties concerned reaffirmed that the adoption of a code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea would further promote peace and stability in the region and agreed to work, on the basis of consensus, towards the eventual attainment of this objective.
Kuala Lumpur had emphasised on the need to expeditiously work towards an early conclusion of the COC in the South China Sea.
Replying to a question, Anifah stressed that the issue of South China Sea was very relevant and important not only to Asean member states but also to the world at large because as a vital sea lane, it was important to ensure the freedom of navigations and safe passage.
More than 100,000 cargo ships sail through the South China Sea every year.
“Therefore, I think, we have a very good relationship with China and we will continue discussing the implementation of the DOC and also the consultation of the COC. We have always maintained that any territorial disputes must be resolved through international law and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1992.
Although the DOC was signed in 2002, so far very little progress had been made in talks between Asean and China on a COC.
When asked that China had yet to set the date for the next round of talks and whether Asean could go alone in this issue without China, Anifah said China had been “very positive” about the matter.
“It is two parties. We have to have this between Asean and China. Asean alone is not functional. It does not work out that way. But China has been very positive about it,” he said.
He said the foreign ministers have asked Thailand as the country coordinator of Asean-China relations, to increase the frequency of the meetings.
“So we can conclude and have early harvest and to proceed further on other issues of importance especially in trade and bilateral relations between Asean and China,” he said.
He pointed out that China was a very important trading partner in the region and all of Asean member countries were very appreciative of the close cooperation that existed between Asean and China and also among individual member states.
Anifah was also asked if China was really sincere in regard to the COC issue and whether Asean was united as one voice in the South China Sea issue.
“We have a very good relationship. Of course we are talking about Asean centrality. Asean speaks as one voice. This is what has always been maintained. During our chairmanship we intend to solve problems through moderation, through dialogues,” he said.
On its part, China had said that it was always ready to solve the disputes through dialogues and direct negotiations.