JAKARTA: Indonesia is ready to host negotiations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, said Indonesia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi on Saturday (Feb 4). 

Speaking to reporters after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Jakarta, Mdm Marsudi said that the member countries are committed to concluding negotiations on the code of conduct as soon as possible.

Indonesia is this year’s rotating chair of ASEAN and it wants to use the opportunity to continue the negotiations. 

“The commitment of members to conclude the negotiation on the code of conduct as soon as possible is obvious, bearing in mind the need to have a substantive, effective and actionable code of conduct,” said Mdm Marsudi.

Mdm Marsudi said that the next round of negotiations, with Indonesia as ASEAN chair, will take place in March.

China claims much of the South China Sea, but there are overlapping claims by some ASEAN countries. 

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are also claimant states, and the United States and its allies have also challenged China’s territorial claims.

Indonesia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea but it has clashed with China in the past few years over fishing rights around Natuna Islands, which are near the disputed waters. 

ASEAN countries have been trying to negotiate a code of conduct with China for years to resolve disputes and incidents in the South China Sea. 

The development of a code of conduct goes back to the 1990s, when ASEAN issued its first statement on the disputed waters.

But negotiations have stalled due to various reasons, most recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it more difficult to hold in-person meetings.

Saturday’s meeting concluded the first major ASEAN meeting Indonesia is hosting as this year’s chair. 

During the two-day meeting, the ministers also discussed the situation in Myanmar. The country has been locked in a political and social crisis since the military coup two years ago, with more than 2,000 Myanmar civilians killed and 1.4 million people internally displaced. 

The ministers agreed on Friday that inclusive dialogue is key to finding a peaceful resolution to the Myanmar situation. 

They also agreed that a conducive environment should be created for such a dialogue by “reducing violence and ensuring a timely and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance”.

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From left to right; Malaysian Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir, Philippine’s Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Laotian Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith, Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affair Erywan Yusof, Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, East Timor’s Foreign Minister Adaljiza Magno and ASEAN Secretary General Kao Kim Hourn hold hands as they pose for a group photo during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers retreat in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

They reiterated the united approach to addressing the situation in Myanmar through the Five-Point Consensus. The Five-Point Consensus was adopted in Jakarta in April 2021 to end the violence in Myanmar following the February 2021 coup. 

Myanmar was invited to the latest meeting in Jakarta but on a non-political level. However, no delegate was present. 

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