Malaysia is proposing a joint peacekeeping force to help rebuild trust among Southeast Asian countries after bitter arguments over their handling of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — not all of which have interests in the South China Sea — have widely disgreed in recent years over how to deal with Beijing, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The Philippines and Vietnam have accused China of aggressive behavior.
The disagreements between ASEAN members have spilled out at recent summits and cast doubt on a project to form a new “Asean Community” in December designed to usher in an age of regional unity.
“We need to find matters where we can unite,” Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.
“If we continue to look only at dotted lines and competing claims, the future looks very bleak.”
Malaysia said a joint peacekeeping force could be deployed to regional trouble spots such as the Cambodian-Thai border, where the two neighbors clashed over a disputed temple in 2011.
Even if not aimed at resolving tensions around South China See issues, the Malaysian proposal could exacerbate tensions between ASEAN and China which has maintained that territorial disputes should be resolved bilaterally between claimant states, rather than through multilateral bodies.
Beijing has strongly objected to criticism of China’s occupation of disputed islands in the South China Sea by Le Luong Minh, ASEAN’s top official,
“We support the building of the ASEAN community but ASEAN is not a party concerned to relevant disputes over the South China Sea,” Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, told a March 11 news briefing.
He urged Minh to “strictly abide by the neutral stance that ASEAN takes on the South China Sea issue”.
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