Manila: Foreign ministers of the 10-member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have agreed to take a united stand against China’s imposition of a new fisheries law in the South China Sea, a senior official said.

The Asean foreign ministers, during a retreat in Bagan, Myanmar, reaffirmed Asean’s principle to uphold the “importance of the maintenance of peace and stability, maritime security, freedom of navigation in and over flight above the South China Sea,” said a statement released by Manila’s foreign affairs department.

“The Asean foreign ministers expressed their concerns on the recent developments in the South China Sea,” the statement added.

It referred to China’s ban on the entry of foreign vessels in the disputed South China Sea, expressing fears that China might unilaterally impose an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea, as it did over the East China Sea.

Meanwhile, the Asean foreign ministers called on all parties to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) that Asean and China signed in 2002 to “undertake the full and effective implementation of the DOC in order to build an environment of mutual trust and confidence [for all claimants to the South China Sea],” the statement said.

“They emphasised the need to expeditiously work towards the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC to make the DOC more legally binding,” the statement added.

There were no details such as how Asean will ask China to bilaterally discuss with the region how to ease tension in the South China Sea.

The foreign ministers’ meeting was the first in the series of annual events undertaken by the group this year, which is chaired by Myanmar.

China also built structures on Mischief Shoal near Palawan, south-western Philippines in 1995 and took over Scarborough Shoal near northern Luzon in 2012.

The 1995 event prompted Asean to forge the DOC with China in 2002.

China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim the whole of the South China Sea, based on their respective historical rights on the sea lane. Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim some parts of the Spratly Archipelago off the South China Sea, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which grants countries a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone starting from their shores. Four of the claimants are Asean members.

Asean is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.