Sunday, March 19, 2023

ASEAN and China aim for South China Sea 'hotline' trial in 2023


 The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China are aiming to conduct an exercise on a security hotline this year in an effort to prevent an accidental collision from escalating tensions in disputed South China Sea, the bloc said on Friday after a meeting with officials from Beijing.

"What is important is incident management [in the South China Sea]," Sidharto Suryodipuro, director general of ASEAN at Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters. "What we can do this year is an exercise about a hotline."

The communication scheme was agreed upon several years ago, but he said ASEAN is looking to have an exercise among 10 Southeast Asian countries and China.

Diplomats from ASEAN and their counterparts from China gathered in Jakarta for a three-day meeting, hosted by Indonesia, this year's ASEAN chair.

China has overlapping claims with several Southeast Asian countries in the sea. At an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in February, the ministers reaffirmed the bloc's commitment to wrapping up talks with China on a Code of Conduct (CoC) "as soon as possible" to deal with the territorial disputes in the area.

Increasingly complicated relations with the U.S. and Europe only add impetus for China to show the world that Beijing is strengthening ties with ASEAN.

Although details of the meeting were not disclosed, Suryodipuro said, "Exploration of new approaches will be carried out" to accelerate negotiation on the CoC. "Whether the CoC will be legally binding or not is what is being discussed," he said, but added, "We avoid binding words for now."

In recent months, tensions in the South China Sea have intensified.

In February, the Philippines said one of its ships was hit by a laser shined by a Chinese vessel near a shoal of Spratly Island. Meanwhile, the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said in December that Vietnam had conducted a major expansion of dredging and landfill work at several of its South China Sea outposts in the second half of 2022.

The South China Sea, which is crucial for international trade connecting Asia, the Middle East and Europe, has been at risk of turning into a proxy battlefield between Washington and Beijing. China continues to deploy warships and build military structures in the area, while the U.S. and its allies in the region undertake joint patrols.




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