By Mei Jingya, Sina English
The third ASEAN Maritime Forum will be held in Philippine capital Manila from October 3 to 5, at a sensitive time when China and Japan are locked in an escalating dispute over Diaoyu Islands. China also has an ongoing sea row with the Philippines over Huangyan Island in the South China Sea.
The Philippine government has hosted South China Sea maritime forums many times before, trying to court favorable opinions and international support to its side.
The ASEAN Maritime Forum will discuss topics ranging from internal connectivity among ASEAN, maritime safety and rescue operations of capsized ships and crew. As a Track II forum, its primary goal is to present “common understandings of non-governmental groups” to ASEAN’s decision- making agencies and leaders’ summit.
In July, the 10-member ASEAN decided to have an expanded forum, which will include participants from the government, private-sector stakeholders and scholars from another 8 members of the East Asia Summit(EAS), namely China, Japan, the United States, India, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and Australia.
The 2nd ASEAN Maritime Forum was held in Pattaya of Thailand in August 2011. Back then, Thailand was worried that claimant countries of the South China Sea, including Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines, may mislead discussions to the South China Sea disputes. Viewed from the outcome of the forum, representatives of these countries did not indulge in such matters as expected.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has called on fellow ASEAN members to leave “negative assumptions” and said Jakarda is preparing a draft of “code of conduct” in the South China Sea, local media reported on Tuesday.
Marty expressed regret that the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in July failed to come up with a joint communiqué. “Between now and the Phnom Penh summit in November we have to work hard,” he said. “It’s all about preparations, consultations and no surprises. I don’t want to leave things to chance.”
Currently, there is a “vicious cycle of trust and distrust between member countries,” he said. “The development of the South China Sea reminds us how we desperately need the code of conduct.”
Marty said the countries involved just threw blame, opposition and canceled each other’s efforts. “Everyone is behaving based on their worst assumption of the other country’s intent. They feel that if they exercise restraint, other countries will take advantage of them. We have to change the dynamics.”
But he is far from pessimistic. “We are now in the process of spelling out the draft (of the code).” He revealed that Indonesia is going to share the draft with ASEAN foreign ministers during the UN General Assembly in New York, which will take place later this month on Sept. 27.
Indonesia’s foreign minister said he is convinced that the common perspective among ASEAN is also in China’s favor. “It is in the best interest of China for the diplomatic process within the ASEAN to go well.” He said.