ASEAN warns sea recla­ma­tion ‘may un­der­mine peace’

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY M. JE­GATH­E­SAN

Recla­ma­tion work in the dis­puted South China Sea, where main­land China has con­structed an airstrip and other struc­tures on coral reefs, threaten to “un­der­mine peace, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity” in the re­gion, Southeast Asian lead­ers warned Mon­day.

Bei­jing’s as­ser­tion of sovereignty over al­most all the sea — also claimed in parts by sev­eral other Asian na­tions — has set off alarm bells with its neigh­bors and be­yond as the main­land stakes its claim with grow­ing bold­ness.

A state­ment to be is­sued at the close of the one-day sum­mit in Malaysia notes “se­ri­ous con­cerns” over land recla­ma­tion on reefs whose sovereignty is con­tested. The work has trig­gered fears of tight­en­ing main­land Chi­nese con­trol over the se­away.

Along with the Repub­lic of China (Tai­wan), As­so­ci­a­tion of Southeast Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) mem­ber­states Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the sea, which is rich in en­ergy re­serves and fish­ery re­sources, and is a vi­tal con­duit for much of world trade.

Satel­lite pho­tos re­leased ear­lier this month pro­vided fresh ev­i­dence of the scale of the main­land Chi­nese pro­gram, de­pict­ing a flotilla of ves- sels dredg­ing sand onto a fea­ture known as Mis­chief Reef in the Spratly Is­lands.

Other pho­tos showed a run­way and ship har­bor tak­ing shape on Fiery Cross, also in the Spratlys, which was lit­tle more than a reef when work be­gan late last year.

PRC Projects its Power

Sim­i­lar work is tak­ing place at a hand­ful of other sites, ac­cord­ing to de­fence an­a­lysts, who say the con­struc­tion drive will give main­land China a per­ma­nent for­ward pres­ence far out at sea from which to project its grow­ing power.

The closing state­ment by Malaysia — which holds the ro­tat­ing chair of 10-mem­ber ASEAN this year — in­structs the re­gion’s for­eign min­is­ters to “ur­gently ad­dress this mat­ter” un­der dia­logue mech­a­nisms set up be­tween the bloc and main­land China.

But it stopped just short of a call by the Philip­pine for­eign sec­re­tary, who on Sun­day chal­lenged ASEAN to “fi­nally stand up” to Bei­jing by de­mand­ing an im­me­di­ate halt to the recla­ma­tion.

Al­bert del Rosario had warned his re­gional peers in Kuala Lumpur that the main­land was “poised to con­sol­i­date de facto con­trol” of the sea.

Malaysia brushed aside sug­ges­tions of a stern re­sponse that could an­tag­o­nize the main­land, but its Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak ap­pealed to Bei­jing to avoid desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tions.

De­spite its unity rhetoric, ASEAN mem­bers have di­verg­ing agen­das, and the bloc avoids push­ing the main­land of China too hard on be­half of its mem­bers.

Bei­jing holds im­mense trade and diplo­matic lever­age over ASEAN coun­tries, most of which have no stake in the mar­itime dis­putes.

The Philip­pines and Viet­nam have ex­pe­ri­enced the most di­rect face-offs with the PRC at sea, in­clud­ing a num­ber of tense con­fronta­tions in re­cent years.


From left to right, Sin­ga­pore’s Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong, Thai­land’s Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha, Viet­nam’s Prime Min­is­ter Nguyen Tan Dung, Laos’ Prime Min­is­ter Thongs­ing Tham­mavong, Malaysia’s Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak, Myan­mar’s Pres­i­dent Thein Sein, Brunei’s Sul­tan Has­sanal Bolkiah, Cam­bo­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen, In­done­sia’s Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo, and Philip­pines’ Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III join hands dur­ing the ple­nary ses­sion of the 26th ASEAN Sum­mit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Mon­day, April 27.

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