MANILA – Southeast Asian foreign ministers have agreed to meet in Hua Hin, Thailand, in mid-August to firm up ASEAN's position on the protracted South China Sea territorial disputes before meeting with China later that month, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Friday.
"(The Hua Hin meeting) is to strategize and prepare for the (ASEAN-China ministerial meeting) in China scheduled end of August," del Rosario said.
Del Rosario did not disclose the exact date of the Hua Hin meeting, but another diplomat told Kyodo News that the "special ASEAN ministerial retreat" will be held Aug. 13 and 14.
Del Rosario said the retreat in Hua Hin was among the issues he discussed with Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is in Manila for a two-day official visit that ended Thursday. Thailand is the coordinator for ASEAN-China relations.
Both ministers exchanged views on regional and international issues, including the South China Sea disputes, according to Raul Hernandez, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The ASEAN-China ministerial meeting is being held to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the ASEAN-China "strategic partnership," the diplomat said.
The maritime disputes, including how to move forward a proposed regional code of conduct aimed at reducing territorial and maritime conflicts in the South China Sea, are expected to be discussed at the China meeting.
"We need to ensure ASEAN centrality in talks with China. We need to have a common position especially on the South China Sea issue," the diplomat said.
China has yet to announce the exact date and place of the ASEAN-China ministerial summit.
Expectations are high that China will announce at the meeting with the ASEAN ministers whether or not it is ready to negotiate on the disputes.
"The ball is in China's court. We are all hoping that China will make up its mind so we can kick off the talks on a code (of conduct)," the diplomat said.
Talks to begin formal talks on a binding code of conduct stalled last year after China balked, saying it can only negotiate with ASEAN when "the conditions are ripe."
The 10-member association has finished identifying the key elements it plans to use in negotiating with China in crafting a "more binding protocol" such as the code of conduct.
It is hoped that the proposed code of conduct will govern the behavior of claimants in the Spratly Islands, a widely scattered group of islets, cays, reefs, rocky outcrops, shoals and banks in the South China Sea.
Claimant countries such as the Philippines, the most vocal claimant, are hoping that Brunei, this year's ASEAN chair, and country coordinator Thailand will be able to persuade China to agree to the early convening of a meeting to discuss the code.
The South China Sea issue has divided ASEAN, a grouping of rich and poor countries that are prone to influence by China, a major claimant.
The Spratlys are claimed in whole by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Of the six claimants, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are ASEAN members. ASEAN also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.