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US, Australia, Japan want coercive acts at sea to be stopped

The 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and its regional partners is taking place in suburban Pasay city south of Manila

ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh and ASEAN Foreign Ministers Chair Alan Peter Cayetano launch the tribute painting during the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM) at the PICC.

In their communique the ASEAN ministers confirmed that the regional bloc was ready to begin "substantive" negotiations on a code of conduct.

The two sides also exchanged opinions on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and the South China Sea issue, among others.

Also yesterday the foreign ministers of Asean and China adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

A legally binding and enforceable code of conduct has been a goal for Asean's claimant members - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - since a 2002 pact to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight and leave rocks and reefs uninhabited.

Vietnam had insisted that tough language be inserted into the statement expressing concern over "land reclamation", a reference to an explosion in recent years of Chinese artificial island building in contested parts of the waters.

Wang Yi said the climate in 2017 between states that have claims to the sea region had improved and was more conducive to peace.

Alarm over North Korea's missile tests, a tentative step to temper South China Sea disputes, and unease over a disastrous siege by pro-Islamic State group militants, will grab the spotlight at the annual meetings of Southeast Asia's top diplomats and their Asian and Western counterparts.

The tribunal a year ago ruled China's sweeping claims to the sea had no legal basis.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said earlier that the ASEAN ministers were divided over a US proposal to remove North Korea from the ASEAN Regional Forum, a 27-member grouping that includes the North, along with its most bitter adversaries - South Korea, the United States and Japan.

She also said the onus was on all countries to maintain regional peace and stability and respect worldwide law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"If there is no major disruption from outside parties, with that as the precondition, then we will consider during the November leaders' meeting, we will jointly announce the official start of the code of conduct consultation", Wang said.

"There's still no consensus", a diplomat said earlier during the weekend, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers, however, were split on an American proposal to suspend Pyongyang from the ASEAN Regional Forum, a 27-nation bloc that includes North Korea and its bitter adversaries the U.S., South Korea and Japan.

The current ASEAN chairman, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, has made it a priority to fix bilateral ties with China, which has rejected an global court's ruling in 2016 that invalidated its claim to the entire sea region.