BANGKOK – Foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations began their annual series of meetings in Bangkok on Wednesday. With South China Sea tensions, the Rohingya refugee crisis and Korean Peninsula issues on the agenda.
The Asean foreign ministers met among themselves in the morning and with their counterparts from China and Russia in the afternoon.
They will meet with other “dialogue partners”. including Japan and the United States, on Thursday, followed by the 27-member Asean Regional Forum on Friday.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said the ministers discussed the situation in the South China Sea where some Asean members have overlapping claims with China.
Tensions remain high there, with a Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile test in the sea coming to light recently.
A joint communique to be issued at the end of the Asean minister’s meeting is expected to mention concerns over land reclamation and other activities in the sea that have eroded trust and confidence, while increasing tensions.
They are also expected to welcome progress in negotiations between Asean and China on coming up with a code of conduct among claimants in the South China Sea to manage tensions, which they hope will reach fruition by 2021.
At the meeting with his Asean counterparts, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said both sides have “a strong resolve to advance consultations,” having already “streamlined the text and established a clearer architecture and elements.”
China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, has reclaimed a number of disputed reefs and built airstrips and other military facilities there over the past few years.
Busadee said the morning session also dealt with efforts to achieve the voluntary repatriation “as soon as possible” of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from refugee camps in Bangladesh, as well as to ensure their livelihoods after they return.
More than 740,000 members of the persecuted ethnic minority group fled across the border from Myanmar’s Rakhine State since August 2017 to escape a brutal military crackdown on insurgents.
The spokesman said Asean firmly supports dialogue to that end, including between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.