EU, Australia sign framework agreement on security, trade cooperation

The contending states should clarify their claims peacefully in accordance with a 1982 maritime treaty and worldwide law, according to the three, who met on the sidelines of annual meetings of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in Manila, including those from China and Russian Federation.

Taking a stronger tone than it has previously on the standoff, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for North Korea to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions on its nuclear programme, and make a positive contribution to regional peace.

The Asean ministers failed to release the joint statement as expected after meeting on Saturday due to their differences on the sea issue, with Vietnam pushing for tougher language and Cambodia lobbying hard for China.

In a joint statement following a meeting Monday of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Australian and Japanese counterparts, the three officials "expressed serious concerns over maritime disputes in the South China Sea".

Vietnam on Friday night sought to insert tough language against China in an ASEAN statement that was scheduled to be released after the Southeast Asian ministers wrapped up their own talks on Saturday.

Vietnam, the most determined critic of China on the issue, had insisted during two days of negotiations that Asean insist the code be legally binding, arguing otherwise it would be meaningless.

Also on Sunday the foreign ministers of ASEAN and China adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

Malaysia also pushed for some tougher language, including with a reference to "military assets" in the contested waters, according to the draft and discussions with diplomats involved in the discussions.

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China claims almost all of the strategically vital and resource-rich waters, despite overlapping claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Tensions flared alarmingly in recent years over China's island-building works in one of the most-contested regions, where U.S. naval and aerial "freedom of navigation" patrols have challenged Beijing's claims.

Since then, President Duterte has played down the verdict in favour of pursuing warmer ties with Beijing.

But in recent years Beijing has managed to weaken regional resistance by courting some Asean members.

Southeast Asian nations were battling Sunday to find a compromise on how to deal with Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, with Cambodia lobbying hard for Beijing, diplomats said.

In the posting on Saturday, it said diplomats were told the USA "trumpeting" about war and its threat of sanctions only increased Pyongyang's "vigilance and courage", and justification for its tests.

The diplomat said Sunday Cambodia wants its sentiments on the Korean Peninsula better reflected in the ASEAN foreign ministers' joint communique, causing a delay in its issuance Saturday after the ministers concluded their meeting.

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