ASEAN finds common ground on sea dispute: Cambodia

Southeast Asian nations on Friday vowed to work towards a "code of conduct" in the disputed South China Sea, but failed to fully mend a rift that marred a regional meeting last week.

Current chair Cambodia announced that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had agreed on six principles on the sea, where tensions have flared recently with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Beijing of increasingly aggressive behaviour.

The statement -- which also includes a commitment to respect international laws and the non-use of force to settle disputes -- is an attempt to dispel perceptions that the 10-nation bloc is divided.

The Philippines said it was "pleased" with the outcome.

Divisions over the territorial disputes with Beijing prevented ASEAN from issuing its customary joint statement at the conclusion of a meeting in Phnom Penh on July 13, an unprecedented occurrence in the bloc's 45-year history.

But signs of discord remained as Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters Friday that the points were broadly similar to what was rejected by Vietnam and the Philippines last week, and blamed them for the earlier impasse.

"Why did two ASEAN countries absolutely oppose (it) and now they agree with it?" said Hor Namhong.

Diplomats had said a key sticking point previously was a refusal by Cambodia, a close China ally, to mention bilateral disputes in the sea, pitting it against Manila, which wanted a reference to a months-long standoff with Beijing over the Scarborough Shoal.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims in the area.

The six-point agreement, which does not give details about specific incidents, follows intense diplomatic efforts by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who visited Hanoi and Manila on Wednesday followed by Phnom Penh.

Hor Namhong said the envoy had chosen Vietnam and the Philippines "because these two countries caused the problem that led to the failure of issuing a joint communique".

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