Nuclear states shun ASEAN treaty

Supalak Ganjanakhundee, Asia News Network (The Nation), Phnom Penh | World | Mon, July 09 2012

Nuclear weapons states will not sign the protocol of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone treaty (SEANWFZ) at this week’s ASEAN meeting as many of them still have reservations, Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said Sunday.

Nuclear powers including the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom were supposed to sign the protocol when their representatives attended the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Cambodia this week. However, many of them voiced reservations to the group at short notice over their rights and sovereignties in zones defined as “nuclear weapons free”.

China, an immediate neighbor of ASEAN, voiced a specific concern that the nuclear free zone might affect its sovereignty over territory, exclusive economic zone and continental shelves. Russia had reservations on the right of foreign ships and aircraft to pass into the nuclear free zone, while France and the UK had reservations on the definition of the zone itself.

ASEAN officials tried to make clarifications and adjustments to accommodate all of the nuclear states, but many reservations affected the main body of the treaty, which could not be modified.

To maintain the cooperation of the group and the nuclear weapons holders, ASEAN would issue a joint statement to show its intent to develop the protocol. It would have a separate memorandum of understanding with China to clarify concerns over sovereignty, Surapong said.

Members of ASEAN signed the SEANWFZ in 1995 declaring not to develop, manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess or have control over nuclear weapons; station nuclear weapons; or test or use nuclear weapons anywhere inside or outside the treaty zone. The treaty zone covers the territories, continental shelves, and exclusive economic zones of the state parties. ASEAN has negotiated with nuclear states for a long time to have them sign the protocol of the treaty.

Besides the nuclear issue, the dispute in the South China Sea between China and members of ASEAN was also a hot topic of discussion at the ASEAN meeting, Surapong said.

The subject of discussions was how to properly address China’s conflict with the Philippines and Vietnam over Scarborough Shoal and the exclusive economic zones, while maintaining a comfortable level for all concerned parties. ASEAN needed to express its views on the issue to show it was still relevant and independent enough to sit at the centre of the region for all matters. The issue would be discussed in many of the meetings in Phnom Penh this week including the meeting of foreign ministers of the group, the post-ministerial conference and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would attend the postministerial conference as dialogue partners of ASEAN, and attend the ARF.

Documents to be issued after the meetings would express ASEAN’s concern over the situation in the South China Sea and urged all concerned parties to exercise utmost restraint. The documents would not mention any specific situation or incident. ASEAN has been struggling for a long time to have a code of conduct with China for the South China Sea. It signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. The nonbinding document, widely known in the group as the DOC, was not an instrument for a durable settlement of the dispute in the area.

ASEAN has worked to have common elements with China for a future binding code of conduct, Surapong said. Thailand would coordinate with China to have a meeting on the code of conduct in the second week of September in Cambodia, according to Thai Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow.

The workshop in September would be an informal one to explore common elements that both sides should have in the code of conduct, he said. (nvn)

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