Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (left) gives his remarks beside Philippine President Benigno Aquino (right) during a joint press statement at Malacanang Palace in Manila on May 23, 2014. - AFP
MANILA, May 23, 2014 (AFP) - Indonesia and the Philippines on Friday signed a maritime border accord, hailing it as a model for peacefully settling increasingly tense territorial disputes in the region.
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.
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.
Under international law, countries have exclusive economic zones extending 200 nautical miles from their coasts that give them rights to resources in those waters. But these zones can overlap between neighbouring countries.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have conflicting claims to parts of the South China Sea.
The Philippines and Vietnam have repeatedly expressed concern and more recently anger at what they perceive as increasingly hostile Chinese efforts to assert China's rule over the disputed areas.
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 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.
He urged China and Southeast Asian nations to "return to the spirit" of a 2002 agreement in which they said they would not take any actions that raised tensions in disputed areas.