JAKARTA - Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Tuesday said there would be no quick resolution to competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, warning tensions must not be allowed to escalate.
China essentially claims the whole of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons and straddles strategic shipping lanes vital to global trade.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the waters, causing regular diplomatic flare-ups.
"It is safe to assume, given the extreme complexity of the overlapping claims, that we will not see a diplomatic resolution of the South China Sea disputes in the short term, perhaps even in the medium term," said Yudhoyono.
"Short of a comprehensive resolution, the claimants must do their best to manage and contain the disputes to make sure that it does not escalate or worse lead to the outbreak of military clashes," he told the First Strategic Review Forum in Jakarta.
Divisions over members' territorial disputes with China prevented the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from issuing its customary joint statement at the conclusion of its meeting in Cambodia on Friday.
It is not the first time Yudhoyono has expressed exasperation over the issue.
"Things do not necessarily have to be this slow," he told ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Bali in July last year.
"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."