Jakarta. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi has stressed the need for Southeast Asian nations and China to quickly come out with a legally binding agreement, known as a Code of Conduct, to create peace and prevent open conflict in the South China Sea.
In a statement delivered after the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) foreign ministers in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, Retno said that all countries must refrain from making any moves that may be considered aggressive in the region, urging both Asean member states and China to quickly decide on the Code of Conduct (COC).
Thirteen years after it was first proposed, the document is still under intense debate and discussion.
“We need to fully and consistently implement these rules to avoid tension,” Retno said, referring to a non-binding set of guidelines on the South China Sea signed in 2011.
The declaration lays out principles of co-existence and cooperation within the disputed region.
The long-standing struggle over control of the South China Sea remained at the forefront of the summit after the Philippines warned that the situation was deteriorating, with China “poised to consolidate de facto control” through land reclamation activities and island-building.
President Joko Widodo and other Asean leaders will convene later this week to follow up on matters raised in the meeting.
Meanwhile, Retno called on Asean to take leadership in solving pressing issues in the region, including the South China Sea disputes.
Retno also urged the Asean Economic Community, which will start at the end of this year, to produce tangible and concrete benefits for its people so “they may feel them” rather than see them detailed “on paper only.”
These potential benefits include increased protection for migrant workers across the region and further maritime cooperation — including sea connectivity and the eradication of illegal fishing, which Retno said incur billions of dollars in losses each year.
Millions of workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos flock to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand for work each year, a majority of them doing so illegally. A severe lack of legal protection has led to countless reports of abuse and fraud.
Meanwhile, fishing boats from across the region continue to enter Indonesian waters, poaching the nation’s fish and destroying the livelihood of local fishermen in the process.
Retno also raised the issue of ramping up cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar are prone to natural disasters that have killed thousands of people over the years.