BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei—Worried that
long-seething rifts could escalate over the South China Sea, Southeast
Asian leaders are expected this week to press China to agree to start
negotiations on a new pact aimed at thwarting a major clash in one of
the world's busiest waterways.
Concern over North Korea's latest
threats is also expected to gain attention over economic issues in the
annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN,
being held Wednesday and Thursday in Brunei's capital of Bandar Seri
The 10-nation bloc is scrambling to beat a deadline
to transform the strikingly diverse region of 600 million people into a
European Union-like community by the end of 2015.
percent of the work to turn the bustling region into a single market and
production base, first laid out in a 2007 blueprint, have been done,
according to a draft statement to be issued after the summit. The
document did not detail what still needed to be done.
statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on
Monday, would reaffirm the ASEAN leaders' commitment to ensure the
peaceful resolution of South China Sea conflicts in accordance with
international law "without resorting to the threat or use of force."
They would call for "the early adoption of a code of conduct in
the South China Sea," referring to a legally binding pact ASEAN would
like to forge with China to replace a 2002 nonaggression accord that has
failed to stop territorial skirmishes.
China, Taiwan and
ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have
overlapping claims across the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in
its entirety. The Philippines and Vietnam in particular have been at
odds with China over the region in recent years, with diplomatic
squabbles erupting over oil and gas exploration and fishing rights.
A tense standoff last year between Chinese and Filipino ships over the fishing-rich Scarborough Shoal is unresolved.
Philippine vessels withdrew, but China has refused to pull out its
three surveillance ships and remove a rope blocking Filipino fishermen
from a Scarborough lagoon.
In January, the Philippines
challenged China's massive territorial claims before an arbitration
tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in a
daring legal step that China has ignored. The tribunal has to appoint
three more of five arbiters by Thursday, then start looking into the
complaint if it decides it has jurisdiction.
meeting by ASEAN foreign ministers in Brunei two weeks ago was dominated
by concerns over the territorial disputes and ended with a call for an
early conclusion of a nonaggression pact with China, Philippine Foreign
Secretary Albert del Rosario said.
But Chinese officials have not clearly indicated when they would be ready to discuss the proposed accord.
territorial issue has threatened ASEAN's unity. Cambodia, a China ally,
refused to have the issue mentioned in a post-ministerial statement
when it hosted the meetings last year. That drew protests from Vietnam
and the Philippines, and ASEAN ended up not issuing an after-conference
communique for the first time in the bloc's 45-year history.
has steadfastly refused to bring the disputes to the international
arena, preferring to negotiate one on one with each rival claimant. It
has also warned Washington not to intervene in the disputes.
founded in 1967 as a bulwark against communism in the Cold War era, has
often been caught in the crosscurrents of major conflicts. Currently,
the bloc is walking a tightrope between a rising China and an America
that is reasserting its status as an Asia-Pacific power.
wield tremendous influence on ASEAN, which has become a battleground
for political and security clout and export markets.
forces from all of ASEAN, along with eight other countries that include
the United States and China, would hold for the first time three-day
disaster response drills in Brunei in June to foster confidence among
the multinational troops, the draft summit statement said.
publicity-shy leader, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, has led the tedious
legwork to avoid any major hitch in the ASEAN summits his tiny but
oil-rich kingdom hosts this year.
He has separately met with
President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping ahead of this
week's summit. Last week, Bolkiah flew to Manila, partly to discuss the
summit agenda with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
his gleaming Royal Brunei Air plane taxied to a red-carpet welcome at
Manila's airport, Philippine officials saw Bolkiah, who also heads his
country's defense forces, at the pilot's seat.