Asean for­eign min­is­ters voice con­cerns on South China Sea

Business Mirror - - ASEAN MONDAY -

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.

Ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing

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.

‘Political provo­ca­tion’

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

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