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July 13, 2012

Clinton praises ASEAN


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (UPI/Keizo Mori)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Asian leaders Wednesday for helping advance the "common interest of all stakeholders in the Asia Pacific."

Clinton arrived in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh Wednesday for a regional forum among envoys from the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations [ASEAN], Pacific region and the European Union to discuss security in the region.

The forum comes as the United States is focusing more in the Asia-Pacific region, where China's growing military might remains a concern to neighboring nations. China's claims of sovereignty over the resource-rich South China Sea are another major security concern.

"I understand that ASEAN faces a variety of challenges and even growing pains as it adapts and takes on new responsibilities," Clinton said in her address, the Voice of American reported. "But I believe ASEAN plays an indispensable role in holding this region's institutional architecture together and in advancing the common interest of all stakeholders in the Asia Pacific."

The South China Sea issue calls for an agreement on a code of conduct to prevent a conflict over the sea, as other countries besides China also have overlapping claims. The code is called DOC, or the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Security on the Korean Peninsula is also one of the issues at the forum because of North Korean provocations.

Separately, China's official Xinhua news agency reported that the ASEAN and the United States in a joint statement Wednesday pledged to forge close ties in economic, political, education and science and technology areas. The meeting in Phnom Penh was co-chaired by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Clinton.

The United States announced the Asia Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative, designed to increase U.S. assistance to the region, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to advance its partnership with ASEAN, the report said.

The meeting recognized the growing significance of maritime cooperation in the region and underscored the importance to regional peace and stability of ensuring maritime safety, freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea, Xinhua quoted the joint statement as saying.

"The meeting expressed support for the full and effective implementation of the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea as well as the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law" and the U.N. Law of the sea, the statement said.

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