South China Sea territorial disputes a major issue for ASEAN: PM Lee
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has acknowledged that competing territorial claims in the South China Sea was a major issue for ASEAN.
He said the credibility of the regional grouping would be severely damaged, if ASEAN did not address the problem.
Mr Lee was speaking at the Central Party School in Beijing, where he gave a speech entitled, "China and the world - prospering and progressing together".
He said ASEAN should not take sides but instead adopt a position that is neutral, forward-looking and encourages the peaceful resolution of issues.
And he believes the 6-point principles proposed by Indonesia and accepted by ASEAN, achieves this.
Singapore also hopes that ASEAN and China will soon begin talks on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Prime Minister Lee noted that many countries were watching to see how China manages difficult problems with its neighbours, taking it as a sign of what China's rise means for the rest of the world.
ASEAN, he said, is also being watched to see if the regional grouping can deal effectively with difficult issues.
Mr Lee added that even though Singapore does not take sides in the South China Sea issue, the island nation does have certain critical interests at stake.
First, as a small country, it is in Singapore's interest for international disputes to be settled peacefully, and accordance with international law.
Second, freedom of navigation is also of fundamental interest to Singapore, given the importance of trade and the South China Sea to the country's continued survival and development.
And third, as a small Southeast Asian country, ASEAN is critical to Singapore.
Mr Lee said Singapore's security depends on a peaceful and stable Southeast Asia, which in turn depends on a cohesive ASEAN.
He said ASEAN must remain united in order to exercise influence on the international stage, to have its voices heard, and to secure and advance its common interest.
But if ASEAN is weakened, Singapore's security and influence will also be diminished.
Mr Lee noted that the many overlapping claims by multiple claimants in the South China Sea are unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
That's because sovereignty disputes are complex and hard to resolve, and no side can easily abandon their claim without high political costs.
Mr Lee called on all sides to avoid escalating tensions or precipitating confrontations that will affect the international standing of the region.
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