Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is seeking early talks with China to discuss a code of conduct to manage tensions over the disputed South China Sea, the bloc's new chief Le Luong Minh said. The Vietnamese diplomat spoke in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta after officially assuming the post of ASEAN secretary general, replacing Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand.
A binding code of conduct aims at reducing tensions in the South China Sea, especially around the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which are disputed by Vietnam, Philippines, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
The area is strategically important as a vital shipping lane for the Asia-Pacific region and for its deep-sea oil and natural gas deposits.
Beijing, which claims most of the sea, has pursued a bilateral approach with the countries involved in the dispute. By contrast, Southeast Asian nations want a global and binding agreement with China, starting with a code of conduct to ensure peace, coexistence and protection of the parties' interests.
In July, the South China Sea conflict prevented ASEAN foreign ministers from agreeing to a joint communiqué for the first time in 45 years.
"ASEAN should speed up efforts towards an early start of negotiations with China," ASEAN secretary-general Le Luong Minh said.
"The South China Sea is not only an issue of peace and stability for countries in the region but it's also an issue of maritime security and safety of navigation, which is of interest to many countries," he added.
The 61-year-old Minh will hold his new post for five years. He is a career diplomat who joined the Vietnamese Foreign Service in 1975. He studied at Vietnam's Institute of Foreign Affairs as well as India's Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
During his 38-year career, Minh worked at the United Nations in various capacities, including as UN Security Council chairman in 2008 and 2009. Prior to assuming his new post, Minh was Vietnam's deputy foreign minister.
One of his challenges will be to push for a common economic market by 2015 among ASEAN member states (Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines).