Asean foreign ministers voice concerns on South China Sea
FOREIGN ministers from the 10 countries of the Asean said they were “seriously concerned” by recent developments in the disputed South China Sea region and will seek a meeting over the issue with China.
At the end of their annual retreat, held this year in the Lao capital of Vientiane, they noted their worries and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability in the area.
The strategically important South China Sea is at the center of a territorial dispute involving China on one side and a number of Asean countries on the other, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.
Tensions have ramped up since China began a massive land-reclamation program in 2013. Recent satellite imagery suggests that China has installed surface-to-air missiles in a disputed area in the Paracels chain, prompting accusations that Beijing is militarizing the area.
A joint statement said the Asean foreign ministers “remained seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some members on the land reclamations and escalation of activities” in the South China Sea.
The statement added that the activities have “eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”
Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh told reporters as he left the meeting that he was “seriously concerned about the situation” and called for the“non militarization” of the South China Sea.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Asean would seek a meeting with China over the matter, though no date or venue had been set.
Other matters were on the agenda, too. The ministers reiterated their perennial call for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. They also addressed Islamic extremism, in the wake of an attack in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta in January that left eight people dead.
“The threat is real. It’s no longer fictitious or mere imagination,” said Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman.
Other topics included ways to bring about ever closer economic cooperation since the advent of the Asean Economic Community at the end of last year.
A SENIOR U. S. official says that an upcoming ruling on a case brought by the Philippines to arbitrate territorial claims in the South China Sea will also be binding on China, despite its boycott of the proceedings.
China contends it won't be bound by the ruling that the Hague-based tribunal will deliver this year. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday Beijing did not consent to arbitration and would not reconsider its position.
But White House Asia Policy Director Daniel Kritenbrink said on Friday the ruling will be binding on both nations as parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea ( Unclos).
He said at a recent summit, President Barack Obama and Southeast Asian leaders agreed on the need to respect such legal processes for resolving disputes.
CHINA, meanwhile, has accused the US- allied Philippines of “political provocation” in seeking international arbitration over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday the decision by Philippine leaders to lodge a case with a tribunal in The Hague was “irresponsible to the Filipino people and the future of the Philippines.”
China has refused to participate in the proceedings. A ruling is expected later this year, after the tribunal decided last October that it could hear the case.
The Philippines initiated arbitration in early 2013, after Beijing refused to withdraw its ships from a disputed shoal under a US- brokered deal. It contends that China’s massive territorial claims in the strategic waters do not conform with the 1982 Unclos and should be declared invalid. The Philippines also asserts that some Chinese- occupied reefs and shoals do not generate, or create a claim to, territorial waters.
Wang blamed the Philippines for shutting the door to negotiations with China over their dispute and seeking arbitration without China’s consent.
He said China was prepared to negotiate “tomorrow.”
“We are neighbors just separated by a narrow body of water,” Wang told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. “We want to contribute to the Philippines’s economic development.”
In Manila Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma Jr. said the Philippines would not comment on Wang’s remarks.
[The China] activities have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”—Asean