At its summit this week in Cambodia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations struggled to come to a consensus on how to deal with China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Four members of the 10-nation bloc -- the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei -- have disputed China's maritime border claims, which cover a majority of the South China Sea and overlap with their own claims.
In particular, uninhabited islands in the South China Sea that are presumed to have significant natural gas and oil reserves have been claimed by China and Asean member nations.
The member states, however, were unable to agree on how China's claims should be dealt with. The group's current chair, Cambodia, issued a statement Wednesday saying Asean would intensify efforts to find a peaceful solution, Agence France-Presse reported.
This is a weak statement, but it's understandable in the sense that Asean has been unable to find a common position regarding the South China Sea, former Thai diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun told AFP.
One issue of debate is whether or not China, which is not an Asean member, will be involved in the discussions.
It must be resolved peacefully in accordance with a rules-based regime, and the new element that we've introduced is that the drafting of the CoC (Code of Conduct) and the inclusion of the major elements should actually be made by Asean internally before China is invited, stated Albert Del Rosario, the Philippines' secretary of foreign affairs, Voice of America reported.
China is scheduled to meet with Asean officials in November, but discussions over maritime borders in the South China Sea may take place sooner.
This is not necessarily a neat sequential process, isn't it? Of course, Asean ... first and foremost, must have a solid consolidated position, Marty Natalegawa, Indonesia's foreign affairs minister and a former Asean chairman, told VOA. But at the same time as we proceed, there will be constant communication through the Asean-China framework, so that whatever final position Asean comes up with will have benefited from having some kind of communication with China.