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US, Thailand list South China Sea as top regional concern

President Donald Trump listens as Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Washington. AP/Evan Vucci

MANILA, Philippines —Amid rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula, the US and Thailand listed the South China Sea dispute as the top regional security concern, highlighting a need for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

US President Donald Trump and Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha met in the White House on Monday to reaffirm the two countries' alliance for common security.

In a joint statement, the two leaders recognized Thailand's leading role in promoting regional peace and security, particularly in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Trump and Chan-o-cha noted that the disputed South China Sea is a vital waterway for global commerce and freedom of navigation and overflight.

"Consonant with the Sunnylands Declaration, they reaffirmed their shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," the two leaders said in their joint statement.

The Sunnylands Declaration is a joint statement by the US and the Association of Southeast Nations to reaffirm, among other principles, the "shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea."

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Trump and Chan-o-cha also welcomed the adoption of the framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which would lead to the conclusion of a legally binding sea code.

Korean Peninsula tension

On the rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula, Trump and Chan-o-Chan expressed concern over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests over the past year.

The American and Thai leaders "urged all parties concerned, to strictly implement all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions with a view to realizing a peaceful, stable and denuclearized Korean Peninsula."

The leaders also discussed the situation in the Rakhine state in Myanmar and expressed support for ASEAN in its work of providing humanitarian assistance.

"They welcomed the Myanmar government’s commitment to end the violence, ensure the safe return of displaced persons, and accept the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, and they look forward to implementation of these efforts," the leaders said.

The 10-member regional bloc, under chairmanship by the Philippines this year, released a statement on the crisis in Rakhine state without referring to violence against Rohingya Muslims.

Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, disassociated from the Philippines' position and described it as "misrepresentation of the reality of the situation."

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