Tillerson Holds Talks on Security, Economic Issues at ASEAN Summit

Vietnam challenges China at security talks

No South China Sea trade-off for economic gains, Philippines says

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the approval of new United Nations sanctions targeting North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs is a "very good outcome".

"(Ri) said that the move could not have sincerity, given the situation where we're intensifying sanctions and pressure through the UN Security Council and cooperation with the US", Kang told reporters. With 27 foreign ministers from around the world attending, including the US, Russia and China, all eyes were on North Korea Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong.

On Korea, a draft statement by ASEAN condemning the North's missile launches is being objected to by Cambodia, a close friend of China, since it does not include a call for ending western military provocations. It continues to reject the arbitration ruling. However, China unilaterally started work to build artificial islands and military facilities in that sea area, and this has prompted ASEAN to advocate devising a pertinent code of conduct at an early date.

"And of course, any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force, rule of the law is at stake".

They urged claimants to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts and militarization of disputed features, a veiled reference to China's expansion of its defence capability on Mischief, Fiery Cross and Subi reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

A Philippine government spokesman says Southeast Asian foreign ministers have endorsed the framework for a long-sought code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea. The ministers noted the significance of the UNCLOS dispute settlement regime and the Tribunal's decision in discussions among parties in their efforts to peacefully resolve their maritime disputes in the SCS.

China's territorial disputes in the strategic and potentially oil- and gas-rich waterway with five other governments intensified after it built islands in disputed waters and reportedly started to install a missile defense system on them, alarming rival claimant states, the USA and other Western governments.

If it is not legally binding, the code can not be expected to impose a curb on China when it carries out activities that violate the criteria.

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Critics say the outline of key principles is lopsidedly in China's favor and suspect that Beijing may have consented to it to divert protests as it tries to complete and fortify man-made islands in the South China Sea with a missile defense system. The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the counter-terrorism-specific trilateral strategic dialogue to enhance coordination and programming.

They chose to continue implementing the Hanoi Plan of Action and the ARF Vision Statement and partnership in areas such as combating terrorism and trans-national crimes, as well as maritime security, natural disaster relief, weapon non-proliferation, disarmament and peacekeeping.

The foreign ministers also noted other regional and worldwide issues like developments in the Korean Peninsula, countering violent extremism, radicalization and terrorism, and the situation in the Middle East. It's not clear if the ministers will push for a legally binding code.

"It is an obligation for not only UNSC countries but all United Nations member states".

Ri's statement at the 24th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial Meeting was included in the document released to media. "ASEAN stands ready to play a constructive role in contributing to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula".

The framework is largely based on a 2002 declaration by ASEAN members and China, and analyst Greg Poling of the Asia Maritime Transparency Institute told CNN last week that some ASEAN nations remain suspicious of China's motives, seeing the slow pace of progress as "another delaying tactic by Beijing".

The ministers recognized the importance of ensuring free and open sea-lanes as well as enhancing regional connectivity, including through quality infrastructure development. South Korea is hoping these will ease tensions along the border.

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