Vietnam takes on China for its expansionist policies in South China Sea

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Foreign Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, are seriously concerned over the escalation of the situation in the Korean Peninsula and reiterate their commitment to the Bangkok agreement on the nuclear-free zone in Southeast Asia, according to the Joint Communique of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Manila released on Sunday.

In the statement, the ministers urged Pyongyang to immediately and fully comply with its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea, however, remains a participant of the ASEAN Regional Forum despite Washington's call to have Pyongyang be suspended from the security forum, which will be held in Manila on Monday.

"Pessimists will see this as a gambit favorable to a China determined to make the majority of the South China Sea its domestic lake".

"The ministers endorsed the framework of the code of conduct for eventual adoption during the ASEAN-China Ministerial meeting on August 6", Philippines' Foreign Affairs spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar was quoted by Inquirer news as saying.

A legally binding and enforceable code of conduct has been a goal for Asean's claimant members - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - since a 2002 pact to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight and leave rocks and reefs uninhabited.

But on the South China Sea dispute - one of Asia's other top powder keg issues - there was far less consensus with the Philippines seeking to placate Beijing, and Vietnam leading the resistance, diplomats told AFP.

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"We are now an ASEAN community that is resilient and dynamic, enjoying the respect and admiration of many other countries and other regional organizations around the world", said the chair of this year's AMM. However, Vietnam continues to fight for its territorial rights in the South China Sea.

Critics of China have accused it of trying to divide ASEAN with strong-armed tactics and chequebook diplomacy, enticing smaller countries in the bloc such as Cambodia and Laos to support it.

China has steadfastly opposed any mention in Asean statements of its island-building in the disputed waters, its reported installation of a missile defense system on the new features and an arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing's historic claims to the strategic waters.

Vietnam's SOM ASEAN head Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung said this is a positive beginning for the practical and efficient COC negotiation process later.

"There is no consensus yet", the diplomat said, adding the drafting committee was tasked with continuing the negotiations on Saturday night.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also set to meet Duterte on the sidelines of the event, with those talks expected to cover the Philippine president's controversial drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.

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