Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (right) and Asean Secretary General Le Luong Minh unveil a painting of the founding fathers of the association. Photo: AFP
Vietnam urged other Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, as a tense regional security forum began on Saturday with North Korea also under fire over its nuclear programme.
Before the launch of the annual gathering of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Vietnam made a bold play against China with a raft of suggested changes to a planned joint communique.
It set the stage for what was expected to be a fiery few days of diplomacy in the Philippine capital, with the top diplomats from China, the United States, Russia and North Korea set to join their Asean and other Asia-Pacific counterparts for security talks from Sunday.
North Korea's foreign minister Ri Yong-ho (centre) walks through Pyongyang International Airport before leaving for Manila. Photo: AFP
The meetings will take place as the United Nations Security Council votes this weekend on a US-drafted resolution to toughen sanctions against North Korea to punish the isolated government for its missile and nuclear tests.
The United States said it would also seek to build united pressure on the North at the Manila event – known as the Asean Regional Forum – and Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Pyongyang would receive a strong message.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (centre) arriving Manila. Photo: AP
But on the South China Sea dispute – one of Asia’s other top powder keg issues – there was far less consensus with Vietnam resisting efforts by the Philippines to placate Beijing, diplomats said.
Vietnam on Friday night sought to insert tough language against China in an Asean statement that was expected to be released after the Southeast Asian ministers wrapped up their own talks on Saturday.
According to a copy of a draft, Vietnam lobbied for Asean to express serious concern over “construction” in the sea, in reference to China’s explosion of artificial island building in the disputed waters in recent years.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano greets Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. Photo: AP
Vietnam also wanted Asean to insist in the statement that a planned code of conduct for the sea with China be “legally binding”, which Beijing opposes.
The lobbying occurred when the Asean foreign ministers held unscheduled and informal talks late on Friday night.
“The discussions were really hard. Vietnam is on its own to have stronger language on the South China Sea. Cambodia and Philippines are not keen to reflect that,” one diplomat involved in the talks said.
China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, including waters approaching the coasts of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
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