Southeast Asian leaders seek agreement on South China Sea code

Malcolm Turnbull will host talks with Southeast Asian leaders including Vietnam PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc

Almost 700,000 Rohingya have fled the troubled Rakhine state for Bangladesh since authorities launched a brutal crackdown six months ago that the United Nations has called "ethnic cleansing".

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks at the start of the Leaders' Plenary session during the one-off summit of 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Sydney, Australia, March 18, 2018.

In his speech, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed the presence of the ASEAN leaders at this event, organised for the first time in Australia under his initiative. "At the dinner, I was seated beside Prime Minister Turnbull", he told Malaysian reporters as quoted by Bernama.

"This is a security and stability question in Southeast Asia which will affect all Asean countries if it goes wrong", Lee said.

On territorial conflicts with China, which like Australia is not a member of ASEAN, the statement said, "We emphasize the importance of non-militarization and the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may complicate the situation".

The leaders added they wanted to see an "early conclusion of an effective code of conduct in the South China Sea".

The key messages arising from the summit are the acknowledgement of Asean's central role in shaping regional architecture, the promotion of a rules-based regional and global order, peaceful settlement of disputes, and the preservation of open, dynamic and competitive economies.

Community groups from the countries represented at ASEAN protested on the streets of Sydney.

More news: Myanmar leader welcomed to Australian Parliament House

Fears have been heightened by jihadists now being forced out of Syria and Iraq with the Islamic State caliphate mostly crushed, and into other countries.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told the summit on Saturday that refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh was no longer exclusively a domestic issue for Myanmar, as fleeing Rohingya could be prime targets for terrorist radicalization.

Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, the current chair of ASEAN, said the bloc had been encouraged by negotiations for the summits and had "noted reports of North Korea's commitment to denuclearization and its pledge to refrain from further nuclear missile tests during this period".

The ASEAN nations are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

- More regional counter terrorism talks planned.

They will also start a workshop on using electronic evidence in investigations and prosecutions of terrorism and transnational crime. The scope of cooperation as stated in the 2016 joint declaration includes cooperation among law enforcement and security agencies, intelligence and information-sharing especially on terrorist financing and crime related to money laundering, capacity building, transport security and border controls. Australia's government said the initiative would "bring together ASEAN and Australian industry, government, and vocational education and training representatives, to discuss skills challenges facing the region and best practice in engaging industry in skills development".

The project "will develop a pipeline of high-quality infrastructure projects, to attract private and public investment", according to a statement from Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop issued on Sunday. Hayley Winchcombe from the University of Western Australia was announced as the very first New Colombo Plan ASEAN Fellow.

- 50 new scholarships for ASEAN post graduates students to study in Australia.

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