Vivian Balakrishnan: Positive tone at meetings bodes well for Singapore
The positive tone and calmer situation pervading the meetings between the ministers of South-east Asia and China bode well for Singapore as it prepares to assume the Asean chair, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said.
"The fact that we made good progress this year actually sets the stage nicely for us to be able to fulfil our agenda next year," he told reporters late on Sunday.
The Philippines will hand over chairmanship of the 10-member Asean grouping to Singapore next year.
Dr Balakrishnan said Sunday's adoption by Asean and China of a framework that would pave the way for formal negotiations on a code of conduct (COC) on maritime disputes in the South China Sea by the year-end was good news.
"Overall, the tone was positive, the situation is calmer," he said. "The fact that there was progress on this front gave everybody the confidence and certainly elevated the tone and the mood of the discussion."
Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged that a lot of details will need to be sorted out.
Singapore will be chair when Asean plunges into the thick of negotiations to come up with a COC, meant to manage territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
China lays claim to nearly the entire strategic waterway, which is also claimed in part by Taiwan and four Asean nations - Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
"I don't want to trivialise how difficult the negotiations will be going forward," said Dr Balakrishnan.
"The exact form of words, the exact way international lawyers will craft it, I think all these will be the subject of intense negotiations going forward."
Dr Balakrishnan said it also helps that as Singapore prepares to take the Asean chair, its relationship with China is in good working order.
"We may have differences, but we have not allowed the differences to affect the overall tone of the relationship," he said. - THE STRAITS TIMES