ASEAN foreign ministers express concern over South China Sea tensions

MANILA (Reuters) – Foreign ministers from Southeast Asia's regional bloc Asean expressed concern on Saturday over rising tensions in the South China Sea, which could threaten regional peace, and called for peaceful talks between the parties.

„We are closely following recent developments in the South China Sea that could undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” the bloc's top diplomats said in a statement.

The statement came as China and the Philippines traded accusations in recent months over persistent maritime traffic, and Manila cited the need to change its approach as diplomatic efforts were heading in a „bad direction”.

China has described the allegations as „totally false propaganda” and said it will not turn a blind eye to the Philippines' continued „provocations and harassment”.

The ASEAN foreign ministers also reaffirmed the need to „exercise self-restraint in actions that complicate or escalate disputes”.

„We reiterate the importance of peaceful dialogue that contributes constructively to regional stability and the promotion of cooperation in the maritime domain.”

ASEAN and China have worked to develop a code of conduct in the South China Sea, which has been in the works since 2002. But despite pledges from all parties to speed up the process, progress has been slow.

Talks on the code's elements have yet to begin amid concerns about China's willingness to commit to a binding set of rules consistent with international law.

China claims most of the South China Sea along the „Nine-Dash Line” that runs 1,500 km (900 mi) from its mainland, cutting off the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. .

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Former navy commander Dong Jun was appointed as China's new defense minister on Friday. He previously served as deputy commander of a command operating in the South China Sea

(Reporting by Michael Flores; Editing by Marguerita Choi)

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