New Delhi: Indonesian foreign minister Marty M. Natalegawa described as “particularly difficult” a recent meeting of the foreign ministers of South-East Asian nations that brought to fore the discord among the members on territorial disputes with China and urged the early conclusion of a “code of conduct” for countries bordering the South China Sea in the region.
He said the “domestic setting“ within states—including China—that hold competing claims to islands in the energy and resource-rich South China Sea as playing a “huge” determining role in how they conducted themselves diplomatically.
“This is a reality that afflicts not only the democracies, but the non-democratic countries also have to deal with their internal setting,” Natalegawa said.
Divisions over the territorial disputes with Beijing prevented the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) from issuing its customary joint statement at the conclusion of a meeting in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on 13 July, an unprecedented occurrence in the high-growth bloc’s 45-year history.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but Asean members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims in the area.
Oil exploration by India in the South China Sea in a block allotted by Vietnam was a source of friction between India, China and Vietnam, with Beijing issuing warnings and demarches to India to stay away from the area and not engage in any commercial activity.
“It is a fact of life that we have countries in the region that are rising, that are emerging—we have China, India. Asean itself and others. So, change and dynamism is inherent, it is a fact of life and it is something that we must not fight over or try to deny,” Natalegawa, who had taken the role of mediator after Asean members failed to reach a common position on the row, told reporters in New Delhi on Friday.
According to Natalegawa, in the past week, Indonesia had been “engaged in intense diplomatic efforts to regroup Asean to ensure that we are back to where we should be and now we are in a position to press on to the realization of a code of conduct” in the South China Sea.
The Indonesian foreign minister is in New Delhi for talks to deepen trade and political ties with Asia’s third largest economy.
Bilateral trade was $20 billion in 2011-12 and is on track to reach $25 billion by 2015, Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna said.
The two sides signed an agreement on avoidance of double taxation.