South China Sea, Myanmar and RCEP on ASEAN agenda

Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said on Friday that the South China Sea remains a top agenda item for 2020 after meeting with his counterparts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. As the rotating chair of the bloc, Vietnam chose to focus on issues concerning the South China Sea, where several ASEAN nations have overlapping claims with China.

China is intensifying its military presence on the expanding artificial islands and the recent deployment of ships to Vietnam’s and Malaysia’s exclusive economic zones have sparked concerns and have been met with protest from the countries.

Also on the agenda is Myanmar’s plan to repatriate Rohingya Muslims from refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Minh said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership may be signed in Vietnam this year as 15 of its 16 prospect members have concluded negotiations.

RCEP includes 10 ASEAN countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam; three East Asian countries China, Japan, South Korea and two Oceania countries with Australia and New Zealand.

India was initially among the countries negotiating for the trade deal but dropped out in 2019. Japan and China are calling on the country to return to the partnership.

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