ASEAN and Australia urge calm in East Sea

By AFP/Martin Parry   March 18, 2018 | 06:21 pm PT
ASEAN and Australia urge calm in East Sea
Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (2nd L) waves with ASEAN leaders Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha (L), (3rd L to R) Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippines' Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak for a family picture at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney on March 17, 2018. Photo by AFP/Saeed Khan
Leaders from ASEAN also agreed to work more closely to tackle the growing menace of violent extremism and radicalization.

Australia and its ASEAN neighbors vowed to boost defense ties while stressing the importance of non-militarization in the disputed South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, at a summit on Sunday.

Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at the three-day meeting in Sydney, also agreed to work more closely to tackle the growing menace of violent extremism and radicalization.

Tensions in the South China Sea remain a big worry for regional leaders, as Beijing continues to build artificial islands capable of hosting military installations - much to the chagrin of other claimants to the area.

Vietnam remains the most vocal in the dispute with the Philippines backing off under China-friendly President Rodrigo Duterte. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims.

Canberra and ASEAN reaffirmed "the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region," without naming Beijing.

The leaders added they wanted to see an "early conclusion of an effective code of conduct in the South China Sea".

"We will uphold our commitment to the rules-based order and international law in the region, including the South China Sea," stressed Turnbull.

With China flexing its muscle, they also committed to enhancing "the scope and sophistication of defense cooperation", while expressing "grave concern" about escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Day two of the summit on Saturday was devoted to counter-terrorism, with an agreement to work together to tackle extremism amid growing concern about the use of the "dark web", or encrypted messaging apps, by terrorists to plan attacks.

Fears have been heightened by jihadists now being forced out of Syria and Iraq with the Islamic State caliphate mostly crushed, and into other countries.

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, without the United States, now signed, Turnbull urged leaders to get behind a "high quality" Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership deal.

Australia, the full ASEAN bloc, as well as China and India are among countries still negotiating that deal.

Singapore's Lee said there was hope it could be finalized this year.

"This is a historic opportunity to establish the world's largest trade bloc," he said.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, with Australia, a dialogue partner since 1974.

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