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ASEAN forum not proper platform to discuss South China Sea issue

(Xinhua)

08:05, July 13, 2012

BEIJING, July 11 (Xinhua) -- As the foreign ministers of the 27 participating parties of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meet in Phnom Penh on Thursday, many eye the talks as a platform to ease the tension over the South China Sea, which has flared up in recent months.

However, analysts say the attending parties are likely to be more interested in forging closer ties than focusing on differences that concern only a few members.

ASEAN's mute reply to the Phillipine's repeated appeals for the bloc to step in also points to the fact it is out of the forum's reach to resolve the South China Sea issue.

"To become an implementing and organizing force behind a resolution of the South China Sea dispute seems to be beyond its (ASEAN's) reach," said Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at the World Peace Forum held in Beijing last Sunday.

The ARF, grouping the 10 ASEAN members and other economies, serves as an important platform for enhancing mutual trust and cooperation between concerned countries.

As one of the major players in the region, China has insisted on a one-on-one basis for negotiating agreements rather than bringing the issue before the regional bloc.

Liu Weimin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday that China had maintained smooth and effective communication with relevant countries on the South China Sea issue and was ready to settle disputes with concerned parties through dialogue and consultations.

Playing up the South China Sea issue ignored the consensus of countries in the region to promote development and cooperation, he said, noting that the hype was aimed at damaging China's relations with ASEAN.

China's stance was supported by Mohamed Jawhar, chairman of the Malaysian Institute of Strategic and International Studies, who told Xinhua at the peace forum "dispute settlement is between those countries that have disputes."

"ASEAN, the organization, claims no territory. ASEAN's function is more peace, security, law, not dispute settlement in this particular case," he said.

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