China, ASEAN sign sea protocol

By Bai Tiantian in Vientiane Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/8 1:28:39

Region’s leaders avoid discussions on The Hague court ruling

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (fifth from left) joins ASEAN leaders for a photo at the 19th ASEAN-China Summit to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of ASEAN-China relations in Vientiane, Laos on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders on Wednesday avoided any official mention of the South China Sea arbitration ruling at a summit in Laos, as China and ASEAN adopted two documents on dealing with unplanned encounters and maritime emergencies in disputed waters.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the 19th China-ASEAN leaders' meeting Wednesday as both sides celebrated the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations.

The two sides adopted a set of guidelines for their senior diplomats' hotline in addressing emergencies at sea, and released a joint statement declaring that they agree to implement the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES).

The two documents will establish ground rules for emergencies, a step forward by China and ASEAN to contain potential conflicts.

The South China Sea arbitration ruling was not officially mentioned at the China-ASEAN Summit, though the topic of maritime disputes was discussed.

China and ASEAN reaffirmed their respect of freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea under principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The two sides also agreed to resolve territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, and through negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.

China and ASEAN also released two joint statements on the leaders' meeting and on bilateral production capacity cooperation.

The statement on the leaders' meeting includes ASEAN's reaffirmation that China's development is an important opportunity for the region. Both sides agreed to commit to further deepening and expanding mutually-beneficial economic cooperation, including the full and effective implementation of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) and Protocol to Amend the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation.

Meanwhile, as the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits wrapped up on Wednesday, a chairman's statement was released.

Like the joint communiqué by ASEAN Foreign Ministers in July, the statement stops short of mentioning the South China Sea arbitration ruling while urging intensified efforts to start negotiations on the South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC).

Huangyan photos

Meanwhile, hours before the 29th ASEAN Summit, the Philippine defense department released photographs and a map showing what it said was an increased number of Chinese vessels near Huangyan Island.

Photos acquired by the Global Times were said to be dated September 3, and included the location's coordinates.

"We have reason to believe that their presence is a precursor to building activities on the shoal," Philippine defense department spokesman Arsenio Andolong told AFP.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday that there had been no change to the situation around Huangyan Island.

"I can tell you that there has not been any change to the Huangyan Island situation. China has also not taken new actions," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

At a press briefing hosted by Philippine presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella and communication chief Martin Andanar Wednesday in Vientiane, Abella said the photographs were distributed to show that the Philippines is "aware of any and all movements in the area."

When asked whether they are seeking a clarification from China, Abella said "backdoor talks" exist.

Reuters reported that the release of the photos was ordered by the Philippines' defense secretary, who is currently in Vientiane to attend the ASEAN Summit.

Abella and Andanar reiterated Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's stance to resolve the South China Sea dispute with a "soft landing."

The Philippines is not the only country which created waves during Wednesday's meetings.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told ASEAN leaders at Wednesday's ASEAN-Japan Summit that Japan is seriously concerned with the South China Sea issue while updating the leaders on the East China Sea issue, according to a briefing by foreign press secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura.

Kawamura told the Global Times that Abe did not bring up the South China Sea issue at the ASEAN Plus Three Summit attended by China, Japan and South Korea as it was not the appropriate venue. He added that Abe will discuss the issue at Thursday's East Asia Summit, which will also be attended by US President Barack Obama.

Obama meets Duterte

Philippine officials said Duterte has met informally with President Barack Obama in a holding room before attending a gala dinner at the ASEAN Summit, the AP reported.

The brief meeting Wednesday night took a little sting out of the soured relations caused by Duterte's intemperate language in referring to Obama earlier this week. That caused Obama to cancel a formal meeting scheduled for Tuesday. Philippine Foreign Secretary Pefecto Yasay told reporters, "I am confirming that they met," the report said

Posted in: Diplomacy

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