ASEAN defense chiefs reiterate call for COC in South China Sea

Military chiefs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Wednesday jointly reiterated the importance of having a legally binding Code of Conduct to ease tensions in the South China Sea.

The military chiefs gathering for the three-day informal meeting starting Tuesday in Myanmar's administrative capital Naypyitaw said in a joint statement Wednesday that "the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea is crucial to maritime security and to a stable security environment in the region."

The chiefs are in Naypyitaw for the 11th ASEAN Chiefs of Defense Forces Informal Meeting, to discuss regional security challenges, particularly nontraditional ones.

China's increasingly assertive claim to most of the disputed sea -- which has some of the world's busiest shipping routes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas -- overlaps claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

China has long maintained that territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety, should be resolved bilaterally among claimant states.

Speaking to reporters at a press briefing Wednesday at the venue, the host to the event, Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hling stressed the importance of peaceful means in resolving the dispute.

Min Aung Hling also hinted at Myanmar's support for China's position, saying the dispute should be settled among the claimant countries.

"The Myanmar military believes that the South China Sea dispute should be settled peacefully, only among the countries that are involved with the matter, in a bilateral or in a multilateral manner," he said.

"We would always welcome and support every friendly and peaceful effort to resolve the issue with means acceptable to the nations involved," he added.

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