SINGAPORE: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the region needs to work towards a code of conduct for the South China Sea and hopes to see informal discussions on this started at next month's ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh.
Speaking to Singapore reporters after he met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on Sunday, Mr Lee said ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has to work towards managing a dispute which is inherently very difficult to solve.
At the same time, ASEAN should not let the dispute hold up or overshadow the rest of its work at the summit.
Asked by reporters if he saw any progress on the South China Sea issue, Mr Lee acknowledged that it would take some time, especially when it involves the issue of sovereignty.
Mr Lee said: "Those countries cannot concede and they would have to agree to disagree. For management of the conflict on the ground, we have the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea.
"We need to work towards a code of conduct in the South China Sea and we hope that at the ASEAN Summit, we can begin to have informal discussions which can lead towards negotiation of a code of conduct."
Mr Lee noted that in the six months since the foreign ministers met during their ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, there have been "good signs". He believed the six-point principles brokered by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa have been helpful.
There has also been contact between the leaders of China and several ASEAN countries, including the visit by China's Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying to the Philippines.
"I think this is something that has moved forward. I see that the Chinese Vice-Foreign MInister Fu Ying has just been to the Philippines and has had a good visit there and these are good signs," said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee met Mr Hun Sen after he paid his respects to the country's late former king, Norodom Sihanouk, at the Royal Palace.
During their meeting, the two leaders agreed that while the regional grouping has to deal with the issue of competing territorial claims, it should not overshadow cooperation among members states. They agreed that there are other areas of cooperation that ASEAN must focus on.
ASEAN leaders will gather in Phnom Penh from November 17 to 20 for their summit, as well as other meetings. During their summit, they will also have talks with their East Asian counterparts - the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea.
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