ASEAN foreign ministers on Friday called for the establishment of a Code of Conduct for the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) during a meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Beijing's claim to almost the entire South China Sea is shown on Chinese maps with a nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia. This clashes with claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifa Aman spoke on behalf of ministers during a news conference on Friday.
"The ministers remain seriously concerned over the ongoing developments and urge all parties to exercise self-restraint. The ministers stress the urgent need to strengthen the full and effective implementation of the declaration on the conduct of the parties of the South China Sea in its entirety as well as the expeditious establishment of an effective Code of Conduct on the South China Sea or CoC," he said.
China has carried out land reclamation work that is turning seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago into artificial islands. It is building airfields and other facilities on some of those islands.
Earlier this month, U.S. B-52 bombers flew near the islands, signaling Washington's determination to challenge Beijing over the disputed sea.
In a legal setback for Beijing, an arbitration court in the Netherlands ruled in October it has jurisdiction to hear some territorial claims the Philippines has filed against China over disputed areas in the South China Sea.
While ASEAN has yet to take a collective stand about China's increasingly assertive posture in the South China Sea, its secretary general said it was no surprise member countries are looking for peaceful ways to challenge it.
"It's no surprise that countries look for measures to negate any legality of the illegal nine-dash line. We have not only Philippines but also other three ASEAN countries has claimant in this dispute. Each country is entitled, they have the right to seek its own path to a solution of the dispute as long as it is peaceful," ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh said in an interview.
China has said it does not want the South China Sea issue to be the focus of the meetings in Kuala Lumpur and a draft of the Chairman's statement to be issued at the end makes no mention of the recent tensions.