By Mei Jingya, Sina English
After meeting with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, Malaysian foreign minister Anifah Aman on Sunday urged Southeast Asian countries to huddle together in settling their overlapping claims in the South China Sea before bringing them up with Beijing.
Anifah said at a press conference that a repeat of confrontation, such as the June standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships over Huangyan Island, should be avoided.
“We are confident we can resolve this matter. China is also earnest in its desire in finding solutions. This issue can be settled through peaceful means,” he said, “There are overlapping claims by member countries. Let us discuss these among ASEAN countries first before we talk to China.”
“We can only achieve this objective in the South China Sea if all parties agree. Then China can appreciate this and realize it is ASEAN’s wish,” he added. But Anifah did not give any time frame for such an ASEAN meeting.
Anifah Aman reportedly made the above comments following an hour-long meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Saturday. His remarks imply that Malaysia wants ASEAN to present a more united front against an increasingly ‘assertive’ China.
In July, ASEAN foreign ministers convened at a regional security meeting in Cambodia’s Phnom Penh but failed to make progress on the South China Sea issue. As a result, no joint communiqué was issued, for the first time in ASEAN’s 45-year history, due to disputes of claimants.
China’s foreign minister Yang did not attend Sunday's press conference with Anifah but told reporters later that China “firmly” supported ASEAN community building.
Chinese experts, however, deem that the only effective way out to settle the South China Sea spat is through bilateral talks, which should be held in a simple, effective way, and also in conformity with the interests of all the parties involved. Further, “the card” of South China Sea issues is currently still in the hand of the Chinese side.