The Association of South East Asia Nations (Asean) is to seek China’s agreement on rules governing maritime issues, after it adopted key elements of a code of conduct, officials say.
The pact agreed on 9JUL12 will address the resolution of disputes in the contested South China Sea.
The Philippines has been leading the charge for Asean to persuade China to accept the code of conduct.
A maritime stand-off between China and the Philippines developed in a reef area known as the Scaborough Shoal in April, with China denying reports it was preparing for war at the height of the tension in May.
Both sides accused the other of intruding into territorial waters.
Vietnam was also angered by a recent call from China’s state-owned oil firm, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), for oil exploration in the disputed territory.
Sources in Vietnam said part of the oil block number 128, which was contracted to India’s ONGC for oil exploration by Petro Vietnam, also fell under the blocks that CNOOC put up for bidding.
Oil exploration aside, China has overlapping territorial claims with several Asean members – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – in the resource rich area.
But Asean members are divided over what to do. The four affected countries want action but others, like Cambodia, are recipients of Chinese aid and investment, and reluctant to rock the boat.
Asean was set up in 1967 by Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Brunei joined in 1984, followed by Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Burma in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.
As a result of increased sparring between China and its neighbours regarding disputed oil blocks in the South China Sea, India on 6JUL12 reiterated that the region was key to its energy security, and the conflict must be resolved peacefully as per international laws.
India’s Ambassador to Vietnam Ranjit Rae also noted that half of India’s export and import go through the South China Sea.
Despite those concerns, China has been asking India to refrain from undertaking oil exploration in the Vietnamese blocks, in order to provide “peace and stability” in the area.
However, India inked an agreement with Vietnam in October last year, to expand and promote oil exploration in the South China Sea.
(BBC 9JUL12 / HINDU 6JUL12)