South China Sea, Rohingya on agenda in Asean defence meeting

Asean defence ministers participate in the Asean Defence Ministers' retreat in Bangkok on Sunday. (AP photo)
Asean defence ministers participate in the Asean Defence Ministers’ retreat in Bangkok on Sunday. (AP photo)

Ten defence ministers from Southeast Asian Nations on Sunday held an informal meeting in Bangkok with regional issues, including the South China Sea and Rohingya crisis on their agenda.

The retreat was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who in charge of security affairs.

At the opening ceremony, Gen Prawit thanked the Asean defence ministers for the continuity of close cooperation under Thailand’s chairmanship and hoped looked forward to further ties in the future.

“I hope we will drive our cooperation among members and work with our dialogue partners under Asean centrality,” he said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also holds defense ministerial position but assigned Gen Prawit to chair the meeting.

 According to a security source, the agenda of Asean defence ministers covered both internal and regional issues that affect the bloc. The main topics would be a security cooperation within Asean and regional issues in their concerns, including the South China Sea dispute.

In the broadcasting remarks, some Asean defence ministers still voiced concerns over the South China Sea row, but they are optimistic about the progress of the Code of Conduct which could help build peace and stability in the region.

Before the retreat, the Asean defence ministers Sunday discussed with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghu during which the South China Sea issue was raised.

Malaysian Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu told reporters after meeting that the South China Sea issue was discussed and Asean again asked all sides to respect the Code of Conduct. He said and Mr Wei responded that China is willing to work with Asean in addressing the sea dispute.

 Asked about the plan to conduct a military drill, Mr Mohamad said China and Asean will hold the second maritime exercise but timing and venue has yet been set.

“We agreed in principle to have a maritime exercise with China again but we do not know yet where,” he said.

In his remark at the retreat, the Malaysian defence minister also expressed concerns over the Rohingya crisis, saying the problem about displaced persons could affect the Asean security. However, Malaysia is ready to work under the Asean mechanism to solve the crisis.

“If the current situation is not addressed judicially, it would result in the fleeing of more displaced persons from Myanmar, especially the Rohingya, to neighboring countries, including Malaysia,” said Mr Mohamad.

Singaporean Defense Minister Hg Eng Hen voiced concern about the terrorism threat by the extremist groups that relocated to this region after their fall in the Middle East. He, therefore, urged Asean to increase anti-terrorism capability to deal with the threat.

 On Monday, the Asean defence ministers will meet with their counterparts from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

However, Gen Prawit informed other Asean defense ministers that the meeting with Russia was cancelled since the Russian defence minister could not attend the meeting.

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