Asia-Pacific ministers seek "practical measures" to avoid conflicts at sea

The defense ministers or representatives of ASEAN and eight countries -- Japan, the United States, China, Russia, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand -- on Thursday said they agreed to establish "practical measures" to avoid maritime conflicts in the region.

In a joint declaration issued at the end of the one-day "ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus, the ministers also stressed the need to renounce threats and the use of threats in dealing with security issues plaguing the region.

Thursday's four-hour talks covered maritime security and ways to tighten defense and military cooperation among the 10 ASEAN members and their eight "dialogue partners," committing to enhance peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

Brunei's Energy Minister Yasmin Haji Umar, who chaired the meeting, said the ministers "forged practical cooperation among the defense forces."

"We look forward to the upcoming exercise on maritime security, counterterrorism and peacekeeping operation," he told a news conference, stressing the need to "emphasize the strategic importance of the ADMM-Plus and the need to cooperate closer."

The declaration signed by the defense ministers or representatives said they discussed ways on how to "encourage the cooperation within the ADMM-Plus defense and military establishments to establish practical measures to reduce vulnerability to miscalculations, and avoid misunderstanding and undesirable incidents at sea."

The declaration did not specifically mention territorial and maritime disputes in the region -- such as in the South China Sea involving China and several ASEAN member states, and in the East China Sea involving China and Japan -- that constitute potential flashpoints affecting the region's peace and stability.

The ministers were mum about the security issues discussed in the meeting, but an ASEAN defense official said China referred to the South China Sea issue.

The ADMM-Plus meeting also focused on how to "promote better understanding and enhance confidence building through closer interactions and contacts among defense establishments," the declaration said.

It said the ministers discussed ways on how to "work towards enhancing regional capacity and joint capabilities in addressing defense and security challenges and mutual interest by promoting capacity-building through greater engagements and interactions, enhancing interoperability through training and joint exercises, and establishing mechanisms for effective response."

The ADMM-Plus members vowed "to respond effectively to current and future challenges and opportunities based on principles of noninterference, consensus-based decision making, national and regional resilience and respect for national sovereignty."

"We declare to promote and strengthen the spirit of fostering collective responsibility through the development of shared understanding on defense and security challenges," they said.

The third ADMM-Plus will be held in Malaysia in 2015. The just-concluded meeting was the second ADMM-Plus since its inaugural meeting was held in Hanoi in October 2010.

At that meeting, the ministers agreed on five areas of "practical cooperation," namely maritime security, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping operations and military medicine.

They also said they wanted to develop ways on how to share relevant information between ADMM-Plus and the ASEAN Regional Forum, established in 1994, which includes the same 18 members plus Bangladesh, Canada, East Timor, the European Union, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka.

ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.