Jan 3, 2013

Brunei - Sea row tops Asean agenda under Brunei's chairmanship

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A political solution to the ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea is on top of Brunei's agenda as Asean chair, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said yesterday.

The country is keen to pursue a code of conduct between claimants in the disputed waters, believed to hold rich reserves of oil and gas.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but Asean's Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia all have overlapping claims in the area.

During a press briefing in the capital, officials from the ministry outlined Brunei's political and security priorities as it takes the helm of Asean for the second time.

The long-stalled code is seen as a way of reducing the potential for armed conflict over oil and gas exploration, fishing and shipping rights in disputed areas.

Tensions between Asean and China have escalated in the past two years with irritants between the economic giant and its smaller regional neighbours Vietnam and the Philippines.

Manila has pushed for a code of conduct based on a United Nations maritime law that would delineate the areas belonging to each country, usually within 200 nautical miles of its shore, dubbed an "exclusive economic zone".

Officials added that Brunei would closely consult "major powers" and dialogue partners throughout its chairmanship.

Another priority will be to carry out activities of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, a consultative body established in 2009 to promote regional co-operation on human rights.

One of Brunei's primary economic objectives during its tenure will be to support negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — a free trade pact encompassing Asean, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

The Sultanate also aims to promote inter-Asean trade and lower the cost of doing business in Southeast Asia.

The 22nd Asean Leaders' Summit is slated for April 24 to 25, while the 23rd Asean Summit and related meetings will be held from October 9 to 10 in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan.

The Sultan of Brunei will also chair a third meeting — the Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit — in Tokyo this December.

As the Asean chair, Brunei is likely to attend the G20 Summit at the invitation of host country Russia this September.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials said an Asean-Brunei website would be launched in the second week of January to facilitate press accreditation and disseminate information about the meetings.

The first meeting of senior Asean officials will be held in Temburong from January 9 to 10.

Quratul-ain Bandial

The Brunei Times

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