Marty charms Manila, Hanoi. Next stop: Phnom Penh
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Marty Natalegawa: (AP)
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has met with his counterparts in the Philippines and Vietnam on the first leg of a shuttle diplomacy mission to build bridges after last week’s contentious ASEAN meeting.
The Philippines was the initial stop on the minister’s charm offensive, undertaken on orders from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, following the failure of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) to agree to a joint communique last week.
The AMM foundered after delegates failed to reach consensus on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea involving China.
From Manila, Marty proceeded directly to Hanoi, where he met with foreign minister Pham Binh Minh.
Marty told Reuters that he received backing from both the Philippines and Vietnam to push ahead with the proposed Code of Conduct (CoC) to resolve disputes in the South China Sea and that he hoped ASEAN would produce a statement of unity at the end of his trip this week.
Marty is expected to meet Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Thursday and to visit Singapore before returning to Jakarta.
Representatives from ASEAN’s member nations could not agree on the wording for the AMM’s final communiqué — a first in its 45 years of existence and a galling failure for the association, which has prided itself on the “ASEAN way” of decision making by consensus.
In Manila, Marty said that his Filipino counterpart, Albert Ferreros del Rosario, had also agreed to Indonesia’s proposals.
“The end product is a common ASEAN position on the South China Sea,” Marty told reporters in Manila. “That’s why I am now in ASEAN capitals, identifying the core issues of the South China Sea. We can find other means to ensure that there is no vacuum in ASEAN,” he added.
The current round of diplomacy was aimed at restoring “cohesion and unity” within ASEAN on the South China Sea, according to Marty.
“What took place in Phnom Penh was an exception, not the rule,” Marty said in Hanoi after meeting with Pham Binh Minh, Reuters reported.
“Let’s keep it that way. Let’s keep it as an exception,” he said.
The South China Sea has become the biggest potential military flashpoint in the Asia-Pacific region.
Beijing’s claims have positioned it against the Philippines and Vietnam as the nations race to tap possibly huge oil reserves. Two other ASEAN member nations, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, have also made claims in the area.
Cambodia, the current holder of ASEAN’s rotating chair, was accused of siding with China during the AMM when it objected to mentioning a Chinese standoff with the Philippines in the contested waters.
Beijing maintains the dispute should be resolved bilaterally.
The discord exposed how deeply ASEAN’s member states have been polarized by China’s rapidly expanding economic influence in the region.
Marty said there was a need to push for a binding Code of Conduct and a declaration allowing for safe passage of ships in the disputed waters.