Indonesia and the Philippines yesterday signed a maritime border accord, hailing it as a model for peacefully settling tense territorial disputes in the region, where China is becoming increasingly assertive.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the agreement, the result of 20 years of negotiations, showed that the escalating rows in the South China Sea could be resolved without violence.
"This indeed is a model, a good example, that any disputes including maritime border tension can be resolved peacefully - not with the use of military might, which [may] endanger stability and peace in our region," Yudhoyono said after overseeing the signing with Philippine President Benigno Aquino at the presidential palace in Manila yesterday.
Tensions have flared in the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast oil-and-gas deposits, with China embroiled in separate rows with Vietnam and the Philippines over disputed waters.
Deadly riots broke out in Vietnam last week after China deployed an oil rig in contested waters. Aquino said the new agreement between Indonesia and the Philippines served as "solid proof of our steadfast commitment to uphold the rule of law and pursue the peaceful and equitable settlement of maritime concerns".
Signed by the Indonesian and Philippine foreign ministers, the agreement delineates the boundaries of both nations' overlapping exclusive economic zones in the Mindanao Sea, the Celebes Sea and the Philippine Sea.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have conflicting claims to parts of the South China Sea.
China is also engaged in a worsening dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea, that has severely damaged relations between Asia's two biggest economies.
Yudhoyono, in Manila for a state visit and to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia, voiced alarm at the growing maritime disputes.
"The situation in East Asia is filled with tensions and so is the situation in Southeast Asia, including the South China Sea," he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday expressed concern about regional tensions that he said were stoked by China's "unilateral drilling" after it moved a giant oil rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands, causing riots in Vietnam.
"The relevant Japanese statement neglects reality and confuses the facts, and takes a political motive to interfere with the situation in the South China Sea for a secret purpose," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily briefing.