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Mixed Reaction to ASEAN Position on South China Sea Dispute

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North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Ri Tong Il speaks at a news conference during an Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aug. 6, 2015.
North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Ri Tong Il speaks at a news conference during an Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aug. 6, 2015.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is getting mixed reaction for its recent declaration on the South China Sea issue.

The 10 ASEAN members struggled to reach a compromise statement last week at the end of meetings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Their final communique called for developing a required code of conduct in the disputed waters. ASEAN has been talking about establishing such a system for more than 10 years.

Benjamin Ho is a research fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore. He says there has been a lot of talk about the Code of Conduct. He says some Asian countries are in a hurry to have system a system enacted.

Mr. Ho thinks the possibility is very real for establishing rules of behavior. But in his words, those rules "should not be seen as a 'be all' and 'end all' for resolving the situation in the South China Sea."

Many in East Asia believe any public statement is better than none at all. No communique was released at the ASEAN meetings in 2012, when Cambodia was the group's chair.

Oh Ei Sun is a former political secretary to Malaysia's prime minister.

"ASEAN tried very gingerly to strike a balance between the competing demands of the United States and of China. And, the result being the language in the final joint communique."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended the Kuala Lumpur summit in a trip that also took him to Singapore and Vietnam. He warned that the United States will not permit any restrictions on shipping in the disputed sea.

The Chinese government has long said that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be settled between claimants. But recently China has been partly softening its position in communications with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Four ASEAN members have competing claims in the waters with China. The four are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. In addition, China's territorial claims conflict with exclusive economic zones of two other ASEAN members: Indonesia and Singapore.

Leaders of ASEAN nations will meet in December.

I'm Caty Weaver.

VOA correspondent Steve Herman reported on this story from Bangkok. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Words in This Story

communique - n. an official announcement, statement or declaration

code - n. a system of rules or laws

conduct - n. the way in which a person behaves

summit - n. conference or meetings between leaders

exclusive - adj. limited or restricted to; not admitting other things

zone(s) - n. an area that is different from other areas

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