PETALING JAYA: In his first meeting with Asean Foreign Ministers, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reaffirmed Washington’s conti­nued engagement with South-East Asia and efforts to address challenges in the region, specifically North Korea and the disputed South China Sea.

The meeting in Washington was held amid the 40th anniversary of Asean-US dialogue relations this year, with President Donald Trump making a commitment to attend the 5th Asean-US Summit and 12th East Asia Summit in Manila in Novem­ber.

Asean Foreign Ministers said in a statement at the end of the meeting on Thursday that both sides discussed the situation in the Korean Peninsula, expressing grave concern over the escalation of tensions.

“We also discussed the issue of the South China Sea and both sides underscored the importance of a peaceful resolution on disputes,” the ministers said.

Malaysia was represented by Fo­­reign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.

Tillerson, who took office on Feb 1, also confirmed he would attend the annual Asean Foreign Ministers meeting in August in the Philippines.

Senior State Department official Patrick Murphy, in a media brie­­fing, said Tillerson spent considerable time with the Asean mi­­nisters on South China Sea.

And he noted that, collectively working together, we’re quite aligned on the principles and the objectives. It’s clear from the US perspective that we want to ensure that air and maritime transit is free, and the Asean partners that we have can count on the US to assert these rights for us and for all. It’s important for trade. It’s quite important for regional and global security and peace”Patrick Murphy

Tillerson made an appeal for all parties to stop militarisation, construction and reclamation of land in the South China Sea while talks are ongoing, in reference to Asean and China’s dialogue to have a binding code of conduct in the hotly-contested area.

Murphy said Tillerson was quite emphatic about the need to stop these activities to give the talks a good chance of succeeding.

Source : The Star
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