ASEAN ministers meet in Myanmar for 1st time, discuss ASEAN Community

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held talks Friday in Myanmar's ancient city of Bagan in the first high-level ASEAN meeting hosted by the country since it assumed chairmanship of the regional bloc earlier this month.

Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told a press conference after the half-day meeting that the ministers discussed accelerating ASEAN integration and expediting the process of building an ASEAN Community, which is scheduled to be established in 2015.

He said they also discussed development of a post-2015 ASEAN vision.

A press release issued after the meeting said the ministers touched on the sensitive issue of the South China Sea where four of ASEAN's 10 members have territorial disputes with China.

"The foreign ministers expressed concerns on the recent developments on South China Sea, and called on all parties concerned to resolve their disputes by peaceful means," it said.

"They further reaffirmed ASEAN's Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea and the importance of the maintenance of the peace and stability, maritime security, freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea."

The principles, issued in 2012, call in part for self-restraint and non-use of force by all parties to the disputes in the South China Sea, an early conclusion to negotiations with China on a Regional Code of Conduct and respect for the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Also among the principles is full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which was signed between ASEAN and China in 2002.

ASEAN diplomatic sources told Kyodo News that in addition to raising the South China Sea issue, the Philippines and Vietnam also made mention of China's recent moves in the East China Sea where it and Japan have a territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands.

Specifically, they expressed concern over China's recent imposition of an Air Defense Identification Zone over a vast area of the East China Sea and indications that it plans to do likewise in the South China Sea, according to the sources.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said ASEAN should play a "proactive role" in terms of coming up with "means or ideas" to help avoid an outbreak of conflict between China and Japan as that would inevitably impact ASEAN members.

Myanmar took over the ASEAN chairmanship from Brunei on Jan. 1, following political reforms in the country, which was under military rule for six decades until 2010, that have paved the way for it to reengage with the international community.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.