The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said on Wednesday that recent tensions over a common stance on the South China Sea territorial disputes would not hinder its long-term plan to integrate member states’ economies.
“We are moving full speed ahead with the economic integration,” said Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan.
“Asean’s economy remains attractive and has not [been] disturbed by the South China Sea dispute.”
China claims nearly all of the sea, which holds key shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits, but the claims overlap those made by Asean countries Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Cambodia.
Amid the tension, the navies of Indonesia and China have for the first time held a dialogue to step up defense cooperation between them.
The two-day dialogue, part of “navy-to-navy talks” between Indonesia and China, was held in Beijing, Antara reported in a dispatch from the Chinese capital.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa recently went on a whirlwind tour of several Asean countries following the unprecedented failure to issue a joint declaration after an Asean ministerial meeting in Cambodia earlier this month.
Asean countries last week finally issued a joint communique in which they expressed opposition to the use of force and provocations in the area.
But China, which is not a member of Asean, did not seem to care about the decision made by the regional bloc.
China’s defense ministry announced on Sunday that it would establish a military garrison in Tam Sa (Sansha) city, which is located on the Paracel islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam.
China on June 21 announced the establishment of Sansha City to oversee the administration of the Spratlys, Paracels and Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands), as well as their surrounding waters.
Vietnam has sent a formal protest to China’s foreign ministry over a move to set up the garrison in a disputed area in the South China Sea.
Vietnam foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said the move by Beijing violated international law and was invalid, the Vietnam News Agency reported on Wednesday.
China already controls the Paracels and reefs and shoals within the Spratlys, according to the International Crisis Group research organization.
Chinese forces seized the islands in January 1974, when they were occupied by South Vietnam.