INTERVIEW-ASEAN chief says China plan on disputed seas escalates tension

JAKARTA, Nov 30 (Reuters) - China's plan to board and search

ships that illegally enter what Beijing considers its territory

in the disputed South China Sea is a very serious turn of

events, the head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

(ASEAN) said on Friday.

"My reaction is (this is) certainly an escalation of the

tension that has already been building. And it is a very serious

turn of events," ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan told

Reuters.

"It is extremely important to exercise restraint and to try

to approach this development with a level head and be open to

listen to concerns of all parties, all sides," he said.

The South China Sea is Asia's biggest potential military

trouble spot with several Asian countries claiming sovereignty

over waters believed to be rich in oil and gas.

China claims virtually the entire sea. The Philippines,

Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia claim various parts.

(Reporting by Matthew Bigg; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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