BANGKOK -- Defense ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations met Thursday in the Thai capital to discuss issues including border controls, terrorism and illegal fishing.
The host, Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, said the annual get-together of the ministers "guarantees the friendship, security and cooperation between our ASEAN members, which in turn reinforces liberty and stability in our region."
However, ASEAN members have varying priorities, so the ministers focus on approaches to problem solving rather than tackling potentially divisive substantive issues. Their agreements touched only indirectly on such critical issues as territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where Vietnam and the Philippines face aggressive claims by China.
The attendees agreed to study a Philippine proposal for guidelines on maritime conflict management "based on confidence building, preventive diplomacy, and peaceful tension management," said Prawit.
"We are stressing the importance of safeguarding peace, security and the freedom of sea and air navigation in the South China sea," he said. "We also see the importance of building trust, and refraining from acts that could further complicate the situation."
The participants also agreed to study proposals for expanding a hotline to other regional powers in times of crisis; boosting the military role in border management and security; fighting terrorism through the timely exchange of strategic information; and raising awareness on the security implications of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
They agreed as well to strengthen cooperation in the field of military medicine.