PH, Malaysia call for peaceful settlement of South China Sea disputes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 7) — President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday called for the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in the South China Sea and for an effective code of conduct to govern behaviour in area.

In a statement delivered after their bilateral meeting in Malacanang on Tuesday, Duterte said they emphasized the need not to resort to threat or use of force in addressing the territorial disputes in line with international law.

In addition to China which claims almost the entire South China Sea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam,Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims in the strategic waters.

U.S. Navy ships have sailed close to artificial islands built by China in the area to assert freedom of navigation.

"We emphasized the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight over the South China Sea as well as the peaceful settlement of disputes. This is without resort to the threat or use of force in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law," Duterte said.

Mahathir said the South China Sea disputes are among the regional issues they tackled during their closed-door meeting.

"We also exchanged views on a number of regional and international issues of mutual interest such as the South China Sea and the cooperation within [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations]," the Malaysian leader said.

A joint statement of the two countries released later by the Department of Foreign Affairs also said "both leaders expressed their government's hope for an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea."

ASEAN—whose 10 members include Malaysia and the Philippines—has long been negotiating with China for a legally-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua had earlier said that China is working on the COC to help maintain peace and stability in the area.