By P Prem Kumar
KUALA LUMPUR (AA) – Foreign ministers from 10 Southeast Asian countries are scheduled to gather in China on Tuesday to discuss relations between Beijing and a regional bloc, some of whose member states have territorial disputes over the South China Sea.
A statement released by Malaysia's Foreign Ministry on Monday said the gathering was a proactive effort to further enhance relations between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"Preparations for the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations will also be discussed," it said, referring to a Commemorative Summit set to be held in Laos in September.
Malaysia will be represented by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman in this week’s “Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting", which the statement said he had recently proposed.
Those attending are due to be welcomed in an official dinner hosted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Aman had previously stated that Malaysia seeks to apply diplomatic pressure to caution Beijing about its maritime activities at the Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands where China has been conducting reclamation projects.
The minister had said that China’s test flights to and landings at the reef would create a “non-conducive” situation, with the potential to increase tension in the South China Sea channel.
A newly constructed 3-kilometer airstrip on the reef -- known as Yongshu Island in China -- is the largest in the region, where four other claimants -- including Malaysia -- have runways.
China considers almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea its territory, but Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
China's reclamation work in the region has prompted the United States and its allies to express alarm over the maritime expansion, which they suspect is aimed at extending its military reach.
Last month, an American guided missile destroyer sailed near a reef in the sea’s disputed Spratly Islands chain, in the latest of U.S. "freedom of navigation" operations -- moves Beijing has called “provocative".