Asean and China Reach Consensus on Maritime Dispute

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China reached a landmark agreement today to address maritime disputes that threaten regional stability.

For Liu Zhenmin, a member of the Chinese delegation attending the 44th Asean ministerial conference, the agreement is “historic” in terms of a guideline to regulate conduct in the East Sea.

Besides being a busy trade route, the South China Sea has rich deposits of oil, natural gas and fishing, and its waters are claimed by China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Now China and ASEAN agreed on a set of guidelines for the eventual implementation of a code to regulate government activities in disputed waters and islands.

The draft speaks of possible activities, actions and joint projects of cooperation, but omit the oil issue, the real trigger for the recent diplomatic clashes.

Surin Pitsuwan, Asean secretary general, considered the pact a break with the existing stagnation for nearly a decade, but according to the Philippine Foreign Minister, Albert del Rosario, the agreement lacks “substance”.

Skepticism considers that Manila opened the doors of this internal conflict to the United States. In fact, the Philippines announced this week that it would seek arbitration of the UN.

But Vietnam, another country claiming their rights in Spratly archipelagos of Paracel, valued the agreement, calling it a “positive development” in the subject.

“This is a significant and good start to work together in dialogue and cooperation,” said Pham Quang Vinh, an official of the Vietnamese delegation at the summit in Bali.

Asean wants to have this document ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of relations with China, including a trade of some 171 billion dollars in the first half of 2011.

The bloc aims to become Community by 2015, and an unstable area or bad relationships with key partners such as China, frustrates the implementation of the beloved project.