Ten­sions at se­cu­rity fo­rum

Viet­nam makes bold play against China

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANILA: Viet­nam urged other South­east Asian na­tions to take a stronger stand against Chi­nese ex­pan­sion­ism in the South China Sea, as a tense re­gional se­cu­rity fo­rum be­gan yes­ter­day with North Korea also un­der fire over its nu­clear pro­gram. Ahead of the launch of the an­nual gath­er­ing of for­eign min­is­ters from the 10mem­ber As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN), Viet­nam made a bold play against China with a raft of sug­gested changes to a planned joint com­mu­nique.

It set the stage for what was ex­pected to be a fiery few days of diplo­macy in the Philip­pine cap­i­tal, with the top diplo­mats from China, the United States, Rus­sia and North Korea set to join their ASEAN and other Asia-Pa­cific coun­ter­parts for se­cu­rity talks from to­day. The meet­ings will take place as the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil votes this week­end on a US­drafted res­o­lu­tion to toughen sanc­tions against North Korea to pun­ish the iso­lated regime for its mis­sile and nu­clear tests.

The United States said it would also seek to build united pres­sure on the North at the Manila even­t­known as the ASEAN Re­gional Fo­rum-and Philip­pine For­eign Sec­re­tary Alan Peter Cayetano said Py­ongyang would re­ceive a strong mes­sage. But on the South China Sea dis­pute-one of Asia’s other top pow­der keg is­sues­there was far less con­sen­sus with Viet­nam re­sist­ing ef­forts by the Philip­pines to pla­cate Bei­jing, diplo­mats told AFP.

Viet­nam on Fri­day night sought to in­sert tough lan­guage against China in an ASEAN state­ment that was sched­uled to be re­leased af­ter the South­east Asian min­is­ters wrapped up their own talks yes­ter­day. Ac­cord­ing to a copy of a draft ob­tained by AFP, Viet­nam lob­bied for ASEAN to ex­press se­ri­ous con­cern over “con­struc­tion” in the sea, in ref­er­ence to China’s ex­plo­sion of ar­ti­fi­cial is­land build­ing in the dis­puted wa­ters in re­cent years. Viet­nam also wanted ASEAN to in­sist in the state­ment that a planned code of con­duct for the sea with China be “legally bind­ing”, which Bei­jing op­poses.

Tense talks

The lob­by­ing oc­curred when the ASEAN for­eign min­is­ters held un­sched­uled and in­for­mal talks late on Fri­day night. “The dis­cus­sions were re­ally hard. Viet­nam is on its own to have stronger lan­guage on the South China Sea. Cam­bo­dia and Philip­pines are not keen to re­flect that,” one diplo­mat in­volved in the talks told AFP. China claims nearly all of the strate­gi­cally vi­tal sea, in­clud­ing wa­ters ap­proach­ing the coasts of Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Malaysia and Brunei.

China has in re­cent years ex­panded its pres­ence in the sea by build­ing the ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands, which are ca­pa­ble of hold­ing mil­i­tary bases. Along­side Viet­nam, the Philip­pines used to be the most vo­cal critic of Bei­jing’s ex­pan­sion­ism. But un­der Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, Manila has sought to down­play the dis­pute with China in re­turn for bil­lions of dol­lars in Chi­nese in­vest­ments and aid.

China has in re­cent years also suc­cess­fully lob­bied other ASEAN na­tions, par­tic­u­larly Cam­bo­dia and Laos, to sup­port its diplo­matic ma­neu­ver­ing in the dis­pute. At the ASEAN open­ing cer­e­mony on Satur­day morn­ing, Cayetano con­firmed there had been strong de­bates on Fri­day. “You have to ex­cuse my voice as my col­leagues, we kept each other up un­til al­most mid­night last night. In the true ASEAN way we were able to pas­sion­ately ar­gue our na­tional in­ter­est,” Cayetano said.

Var­i­ous diplo­mats said that Viet­nam was likely to lose its bat­tle to in­sert the strong lan­guage against China, with the Philip­pines as host of the talks wield­ing greater in­flu­ence. ASEAN is set to this week­end en­dorse a frame­work for a code of con­duct with China, which is meant to pave the way for more con­crete ac­tion. But se­cu­rity an­a­lysts point out that the frame­work comes 15 years af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions on the is­sue first be­gan, and China has used that time to ce­ment its claims with the ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands.

An­other press­ing is­sue in Manila will be the grow­ing ter­ror­ism threat in the re­gion. The event is tak­ing place as Philip­pine se­cu­rity forces bat­tle Is­lamic State-aligned gun­men who have since May been oc­cu­py­ing parts of Marawi, the na­tion’s main Mus­lim city about 800 kilo­me­ters to the south of Manila.

—AFP

MANILA: (From left to right) Malaysia’s For­eign Min­is­ter Ani­fah Aman, Myan­mar’s Min­is­ter of State of For­eign Af­fairs U Kyaw Tin, Thai­land’s For­eign Min­is­ter Don Pra­mud­winai, Viet­nam’s For­eign Min­is­ter Pham Binh Minh, Philip­pines’ For­eign Sec­re­tary Alan Peter Cayetano, Sin­ga­pore’s For­eign Min­is­ter Vi­vian Balakr­ish­nan, Brunei’s For­eign Min­is­ter Lim Jock Seng, Cam­bo­dia’s For­eign Min­is­ter Prak Sokhonn, In­done­sia’s For­eign Min­is­ter Retno Mar­sudi, Laos’ For­eign Min­is­ter Saleumxay Kom­m­a­sith and ASEAN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Le Luong Minh join hands for a fam­ily photo dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 50th As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) Re­gional Fo­rum (ARF) meet­ing.

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