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Asean retracts strong statement on S. China sea rows: Malaysia

[KUALA LUMPUR] Southeast Asian countries have retracted a statement that expressed deep concern over recent events in the South China Sea, Malaysia said on Tuesday, adding that "urgent amendments" would be made.

"We have to retract the media statement by the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) foreign ministers... as there are urgent amendments to be made," a Malaysian foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

She said the Asean Secretariat approved the release of the statement, then later informed the ministry it was being retracted.

The ministry had released a statement hours earlier following a meeting of the Chinese and Asean foreign ministers - hosted by China - that appeared to rebuke Beijing over its actions in the waterway.

"We expressed our serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea," the Asean communique had said, without mentioning China by name.

It was not immediately clear why the statement, whose wording was in line with recent statements by Asean, would need to retracted.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea - a vast tract of water through which a huge chunk of global shipping passes.

It has bolstered its claim by building artificial islands including airstrips in the area, some of which are suitable for military use.

The Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have competing claims to parts of the sea, which is believed to harbour significant oil and gas deposits.

The region is bracing for a ruling by a UN tribunal on a claim brought by the Philippines against China.

China does not recognise the arbitration and has reacted angrily to the Philippines' legal efforts over the Beijing-controlled Scarborough Shoal, off the main Philippine island of Luzon.