South China Sea: Asean urged to tackle dispute

Ministers at opening of Asean summit. 19 July 2011 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Regional tensions are expected to dominate the five-day meeting in Bali

Indonesia's president has urged Asian nations to agree a code of conduct for disputes in the South China Sea.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was addressing foreign ministers as the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) gathered in Bali for a five-day summit.

Talks are expected to focus on the territorial dispute taking place over parts of the South China Sea.

China claims huge areas of the sea and two island chains, but its claims overlap with those of other nations.

"We need to finalise those long overdue guidelines because we need to get moving to the next phase," said President Yudhoyono in his keynote speech to foreign ministers.

"We need to send a strong signal to the world that the future of the South China Sea is a predictable, manageable and optimistic one."

Correspondents say tensions over the South China Sea are likely to overshadow the summit.

Oil reserves

China, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim sovereignty over huge areas of the sea, including the Paracel and Spratly island groups.

The Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also claim overlapping areas of territory.

The region has vital shipping routes as well as vast reserves of oil and gas.

The meeting in Bali culminates on Saturday with talks on regional security which will include China, Japan and the US.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is among those due to attend.

The group is also expected to discuss the recent border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, as well as to decide whether Burma should get the Asean chair in 2014.

Human rights groups say letting Burma head the grouping would be an embarrassment for the region.

The BBC's Karishma Vaswani says the way in which Asean manages these challenges will be seen as an indication of just how effective and relevant Asean is.

Image copyright bbc

More on this story