Singapore, China foreign ministers meet on sidelines of ASEAN meetings

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"From the Indian perspective, Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) occupies a central place in the security architecture of the Asia-Pacific region", Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh said in his speech at the 15th Asean-India Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Manila.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kwang Kyung-wha (6th from L) and her counterparts from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations pose for a photo before their talks in the Philippines' capital of Manila on August 6, 2017.

"So far as far as I know the consensus in Asean is at the very least the code of conduct that is to be negotiated still, that the negotiations that will happen in the next few months or years should produce a substantive and effective code of conduct", he said in a press briefing.

"The ministers called on China and the Philippines to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal's 2016 Award in the Philippines-China arbitration, as it is final and legally binding on both parties", the ministers' joint statement said. "Actually compared with what happened surrounding the (Vientiane) meeting a year ago, the situation in the South China Sea is different with really tangible progress".

Wang said he would not try to anticipate what the code will comprise, but said whatever is signed must be adhered to.

China has opposed including mention of its island-building or an arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing's historical claims to the strategic waters.

China's efforts to assert its dominance over the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes that carries more than $5 trillion in annual trade, have in the past angered Southeast Asian nations with competing claims such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

The diplomat said Sunday Cambodia wants its sentiments on the Korean Peninsula better reflected in the ASEAN foreign ministers' joint communique, causing a delay in its issuance Saturday after the ministers concluded their meeting.

Analysts believe China will continue to grow its influence on ASEAN at a time of uncertainty over the Trump administration's security priorities and whether it will try to keep China's aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea in check.

ASEAN and China have agreed on a framework for how they will go about drafting a code.

Aside from the Philippines and China, three other ASEAN countries - Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia - have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

But China, despite being a signatory to the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea, ignored the ruling.

In a surprise move, the ministers defied China's steadfast stance and issued a joint communique late Sunday that indirectly criticized Beijing's land reclamation and military fortifications in the disputed waters.

They urged claimants to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts and militarization of disputed features, a veiled reference to China's expansion of its defense capability on Mischief, Fiery Cross and Subi reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

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