Asian leaders push toward pacts on South China Sea, trade

Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah speaks to Malay Mail at Wisma Putra in Putrajaya

"That's a reality, and America and everybody should realise that they are there".

"No, because - it's not military drills because I said China is already in possession".

His visit to the republic is at the invitation of his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong, where the two leaders will sit together for the first time for a bilateral meeting, to be held at the The Istana.

And since the Philippines is the country coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue relations from 2018 to 2021, Heydarian said, "It doesn't reflect well on the Philippines given we are that ASEAN-China country coordinate for next two years, which means we handle all crucial engagements between two sides, that's 11 countries". "So why do you have to create frictions - strong - military activity that will prompt a response from China?"

"In practice, China now has the capability to deny the Philippines access in the air or at sea to the islands and reefs it claims", he said.

That was echoed by summit host Singaporean Prime Lee Hsien Loong, who told a welcome ceremony for his ASEAN counterparts that "the global order is at a turning point".

Apart from facilitating cross-border e-commerce transactions, the pact will also look to foster an environment of trust and confidence in the use of e-commerce as well as enhance collaboration in promoting the regional economic growth.

Duterte earlier admitted that rising tension between China and the US worries him.

The US' increasing diplomatic assertiveness is partly driven by deepening frustrations over the prolonged negotiations of a code of conduct, a process that formally began nearly two decades ago without any major breakthrough to date.

Leaders from Southeast Asia, China and other neighboring countries met in Singapore on Wednesday and cited progress on keeping peace in the contentious South China Sea as evidence that the region is managing to handle such issues on its own.

In 2016, it largely won a complaint it lodged before an worldwide tribunal that invalidated Beijing's sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

There is thus growing suspicion across the region and beyond that China is using the code of conduct negotiations as diplomatic cover for its unilateral adjustment of the maritime status quo at the expense of smaller claimant states, as well as external powers such the USA which have enjoyed unimpeded access to the sea for the past seven decades.

The RCEP agreement includes 16 countries, including ASEAN nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, but not the United States.

The 10 members of ASEAN agreed to start negotiations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea in 2002, but little progress has been made amid rising tensions in the area, which is a crucial trade route for global shipping and thought to be rich in natural resources.

Chinese negotiators also called on claimant states to develop hydrocarbon resources in the area jointly, with minimal participation from external players.

Despite Beijing's blatant efforts to militarize land features across the South China Sea, Li Keqiang claims that Beijing has no intention of seeking "hegemony or expansion".

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