ASEAN plays it safe with Beijing

The Myanmar Times - - World -

SOUTH­EAST Asian na­tions avoided re­buk­ing Beijing or men­tion­ing a re­cent United Na­tions-backed tri­bunal rul­ing against its claims in the South China Sea in a state­ment is­sued yes­ter­day that will be seen as a vic­tory for the re­gional gi­ant.

The 10-mem­ber ASEAN in­stead said it was “se­ri­ously con­cerned” by “land recla­ma­tions and es­ca­la­tion of ac­tiv­i­ties” and merely called for sel­f­re­straint in the strate­gic water­way.

Diplo­mats gath­ered for a sum­mit in the Laos cap­i­tal spent days wran­gling over how to re­spond to this month’s rul­ing by a The Hague-based tri­bunal, which de­liv­ered a ham­mer blow to most of China’s his­tor­i­cal claims over the re­gion.

Staunch Beijing ally Cam­bo­dia was ac­cused of scup­per­ing ef­forts by the bloc to is­sue a joint state­ment call­ing on Beijing to ad­here to the tri­bunal’s de­ci­sion.

Four ASEAN mem­bers – Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Malaysia and Brunei – have claims with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea.

Most mem­bers of the bloc want to keep pres­sure on China over its cam­paign of is­land build­ing in the strate­gic wa­ters.

But ASEAN op­er­ates on a tra­di­tion of con­sen­sus diplo­macy, mean­ing a sin­gle na­tion can have an ef­fec­tive veto if it dis­agrees.

The state­ment was fi­nally re­leased yes­ter­day af­ter last-minute talks fi­nally found a way through the im­passe. But it was clear Cam­bo­dia’s in­tran­si­gence had car­ried the day.

“We just averted an­other po­ten­tial de­ba­cle,” one South­east Asian diplo­mat said, re­fer­ring to a 2012 sum­mit in Cam­bo­dia where the bloc failed to is­sue a joint state­ment for the first time be­cause of dis­agree­ments on the South China Sea.

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