ASEAN should be united in South China Sea issue: Former diplomat

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – The best way for ASEAN to approach the South China Sea issue and the finalisation of the Code of Conduct (COC) is through one voice as a group, said former Indonesian foreign minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa.

Natalegawa, who served in the position from 2009 to 2014, echoed Malaysia’s position in the matter, adding that it is important for the 10-nation regional body to be united even as member states might have different interests in the issue.

“It is critically important for countries of Southeast Asia (that) when faced with a litmus test such as the South China Sea issue, we are not divided, and we speak with one voice, although the South China Sea claimants are only some of us.

“At the same time, this is a matter that affects all of us. We must solidify that position so that in talks with China on the code of conduct, we are coherent and united,” he told Bernama and RTM after the Malaysian launch of his book, Does ASEAN Matter? A View from Within yesterday.

The book was launched on the sidelines of the 33rd Asia-Pacific Roundtable, which ended yesterday.

Among the member states of ASEAN, only Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei are claimants of the South China Sea area.

Malaysia, at the just concluded 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, has urged ASEAN member countries to come together in drafting a COC so that the South China Sea dispute can be resolved amicably.

Malaysia’s stand on the dispute is that it should not be discussed separately among member countries that had made overlapping claims over the area.

The former Indonesian permanent representative to the United Nations from 2007-2009 noted that ASEAN is stronger, and will continue to remain relevant, when unity is maintained.

“All of us (should), constantly speak of unity. It has to be proven, has to be demonstrated. And whenever divisions occur, there has to be serious efforts to restore unity,” he said.

On his publication, Natalegawa said he shares his personal thoughts on what remains to be done on ASEAN, rather than celebrating ASEAN’s pasts.