SE Asian ministers endorse sea code framework

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Latest on annual meetings of Southeast Asian foreign ministers and their counterparts from the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, the two Koreas and other nations (all times local):

7:20 p.m.

A Philippine government spokesman says Southeast Asian foreign ministers have endorsed the framework for a long-sought code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea.

The ministers endorsed the framework on Saturday, a day before meeting with their Chinese counterpart, when they are expected to jointly adopt it.

The Philippines calls the framework a major step in efforts to ease potential flashpoints. It’s not clear if the ministers will push for a legally binding code.

Critics say the outline of key principles is lopsidedly in China’s favor and suspect that Beijing may have consented to it to divert protests as it tries to complete and fortify man-made islands in the South China Sea with a missile defense system.

Robespierre L. Bolivar, spokesman of the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs, said the foreign ministers “endorsed the framework of the code of conduct for eventual adoption at the ASEAN-China ministerial meeting on Aug. 6.”

Bolivar said the Philippines prefers a legally binding code of conduct but the consensus in ASEAN is that at the very least, the code that is still to be negotiated should be substantive and effective. He said the framework is an outline and countries can put in more substantive aspects of the code when the negotiations start.

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5 p.m.

Southeast Asia’s top diplomats have slammed North Korea with a sharp rebuke over its intercontinental ballistic missile tests and reminded Pyongyang of its duty to avoid conflicts as a member of Asia’s biggest security forum.

The 10 foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reiterated in a joint statement Saturday their grave concerns over the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula due to the North’s two ICBM tests last month, saying the launches threaten world stability.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said earlier that the ASEAN ministers were divided over a U.S. proposal to remove North Korea from the ASEAN Regional Forum, a 27-member grouping that includes the North, along with its most bitter adversaries — South Korea, the United States and Japan.

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10:50 a.m.

Southeast Asia’s top diplomats have opened their annual meeting at a convention and theater complex by Manila Bay without the usual security overkill. Motorists were…

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