Southeast Asian navies seek closer ties amid sea spat
HANOI—Southeast Asian naval chiefs pledged closer cooperation on Wednesday as they held their first formal talks amid regional concern over China’s activities in the West Philippines (South China Sea).
Competing claims to the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly island groups have caused rising tensions in recent months, with China’s regional neighbors accusing it of behaving aggressively.
Vice Admiral Alexander Pama, commander of the Philippine navy, said the gathering in Hanoi was the first “formal meeting” of naval chiefs from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) bloc.
He said the forum was held for the “purpose of enhancing collaboration, cooperation, among the Asean navies.”
The disputed areas, which straddle vital commercial shipping lanes, are subject to a tangle of maritime claims by China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Malaysia’s top sailor Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar urged China to “respect the sovereignty” of states in the region in comments to reporters after the talks.
Asean foreign ministers last week voiced “serious concern” over recent incidents in the West Philippines Sea.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the international community should weigh into dialogue between China and Southeast Asian nation to ensure disputes “don’t get out of control”.
After attending Asia’s main security forum in Indonesia, Clinton said a deal on guidelines for future negotiations was a first step to a binding code of conduct, but condemned acts of “intimidation” in the area.
“The eyes of the world have turned to the maritime area in our region,” said Pama during the one-day naval talks.
“A solid Asean is an integral part of the solution to the South China Sea.”
Hanoi’s Vice Admiral Pham Ngoc Minh said the meeting “aimed to raise responsibility and define the importance of cooperation between naval forces of each Asean member, in maintaining peace, stability and development in the region,” according to the official Vietnam News Agency before the forum.
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