Indonesia warned on Sunday that maritime conflicts in Asia could spiral out of control and threaten regional stability, as Southeast Asian nations sought common ground on the disputed South China Sea.
Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and China have disputed control of areas such as the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, potentially home to oil reserves and near key shipping lanes. Vietnam has had skirmishes with China over the issue.
If not properly managed, these can spiral out of control, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told Reuters on Sunday in an interview on the sidelines of a regional meeting of foreign ministers.
He said the ministers had discussed the South China Sea in great detail at their retreat in an isolated luxury resort on Lombok island.
Natalegawa also pointed to risks from maritime disputes not involving Southeast Asian nations, such as those between China and Japan. North Korea's shelling of a South Korean island along a disputed maritime boundary last year rattled world markets.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a non-binding declaration on conduct in the South China Sea in 2002, urging all sides to exercise restraint, though most claimants are developing tourism on or around some of the islands they hold to bolster their claims.
ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said on Sunday that China was keen to move forward on the issue and ASEAN was seeking common ground, though he did not reveal what ASEAN's potential negotiating position would be.
The issue is likely to be taken up again at an ASEAN leaders summit with China, South Korea and Japan later this year in Bali.
Chinese Premier Hu Jintao is set to visit the United States this week, and analysts expect the U.S. to court ASEAN as a bulwark against the growing military assertiveness of China in the region. Countries such as Indonesia are trying to improve political and investment ties with both sides.