Key urges solution to South China Sea dispute

  • 21/11/2015
Prime Minister John Key speaks at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) (AAP)
Prime Minister John Key speaks at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) (AAP)

By Sarah Robson

The long-standing disputes over competing claims to the South China Sea are expected to be the major focus of this year's East Asia Summit.

Prime Minister John Key is in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur for this weekend's meeting of 18 leaders from the East Asia region and beyond.

US President Barack Obama, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be among those around the table to discuss regional security issues.

The meeting comes as tensions threaten to come to a head over the South China Sea - an important passage, particularly for trade.

China is continuing to reclaim land in some of the disputed waters, while Mr Obama announced earlier this week he's committing an extra US$250 million to help Southeast Asian countries with maritime security.

New Zealand isn't taking sides, but Mr Key says he'll be emphasising the need for a peaceful solution.

"It's really important for stability in the region," he told reporters ahead of the summit.

"A lot of our goods go through that waterway, but also we're increasingly engaged with Asia, it's really our big market - not just China but right across Asia - so anything that destabilises that in any way is fundamentally bad for us."

Mr Key has already discussed the issue during bilateral talks with a number of leaders in recent days, including China's President Xi Jinping, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Philippines' President Benigno Aquino.

The East Asia Summit comprises the 10 ASEAN countries - Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam - plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the US.

Ahead of the main event on Sunday, Mr Key will hold formal one-on-one talks on Saturday with Mr Modi, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Trade in particular will be the priority when Mr Key meets with Mr Modi.

New Zealand has been pushing for a free trade agreement with India, the world's second-most populous nation.

However, progress on that has been slow.

Mr Key returns to New Zealand on Monday morning.