Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop during a meeting at the presidential palace on the sidelines of the 50th Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila, Philippi
TOKYO - 7 August 2017: Southeast Asian countries have expressed concern over China's militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea but have reserved their opinions on whether a code of conduct for the disputed waters should be legally binding, a Japanese newspaper said.
Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said they tackled the maritime dispute "extensively" during a meeting on Saturday, according to a joint communique released on Sunday night, said Nikkei Asian Review.
The region's top diplomats said they had taken "note of the concerns expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamation and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region."
After affirming the importance of freedom of navigation through the South China Sea and overflight rights above it, the ministers emphasized the "importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states" in averting further tension.
ASEAN member states Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam all have claims to parts of the South China Sea that have put them at odds with Beijing.
China has laid claim to almost the entire South China Sea, a key channel through which some $5 trillion in global trade passes annually.
The joint communique is critical of China, which in recent years has reclaimed land to create and militarize seven artificial islands. Trenchant criticism of these manifestations was struck from the ASEAN chairman's statement delivered by President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines at a summit in April.