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Asian Nations Reach Deal on Spratlys

Accord seeks to prevent conflicts among the states laying claim to the islands.

November 02, 2002|From Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Hoping to avoid armed conflict in the South China Sea, officials of Southeast Asian countries have agreed with China on a pact that paves the way for a binding "code of conduct" for state behavior in contested areas.

The initial nonbinding agreement was reached by working groups of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations on Friday evening before the organization's annual summit Monday and Tuesday, Cambodia's Foreign Ministry said. China was approached Friday night and, after negotiations, agreed to the text of the declaration, the ministry said.

The code is expected to be formally approved by leaders of ASEAN and China on Monday, diplomats said.

ASEAN countries have tried for three years to draw up a binding policy to prevent armed conflicts from erupting in contested areas of the South China Sea.

The disputed territories include the Spratly Islands, claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan and ASEAN members Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam. Also contested are Scarborough Shoal and the Paracel Islands.

The contested areas are believed to be rich in oil and natural gas. They straddle busy sea lanes and rich fishing grounds.

Diplomats said agreement on the declaration was reached after ASEAN and China compromised.

Chem Widhya, permanent secretary of Cambodia's Foreign Ministry, described the resolution as a "political statement" that will reduce tensions. He declined to give details of the agreement.

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