ASEAN statement avoids South China Sea arbitration

By Bai Tiantian in Vientiane Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/26 0:53:02

Philippines only country to bring up case

The ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting on Monday produced a joint communiqué which stopped short of mentioning the South China Sea arbitration case while emphasizing the importance of resolving the disputes between the nations directly concerned.

The statement was seen as a slap in the face of the former Philippine administration under Benigno Aquino III, who not only submitted the case to an arbitral tribunal in The Hague unilaterally but also welcomed outside countries to play a part in the disputes, analysts said.

Sources close to the matter told the Global Times that an ASEAN foreign minister clearly stated at Monday morning's ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting (10+1), which was attended by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and foreign ministers from 10 ASEAN nations, that ASEAN would not take sides in the South China Sea arbitration and will not comment on the result of the case.

The Philippines was the only country that brought up the arbitration case at the Monday meeting, the source said, but it too wishes to seek bilateral negotiations with China.

"The ASEAN nations do not wish their ties with China to be affected by the disputes between China and the Philippines. Many agreed that it was taken too far and should be properly controlled and resolved between the two countries," the source said.

Wang said at a Monday press conference in Vientiane, Laos that 80 percent of the 10+1 meeting was spent on strengthening cooperation and 20 percent on discussing the South China Sea.

The source said the atmosphere at the 10+1 meeting was "amicable and friendly."

Monday's joint communiqué did not mention the South China Sea arbitration.

"We remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region," the joint communiqué read.

Wang said there was nothing new about the statement and that ASEAN has in the past expressed several times their "serious concern" over the South China Sea disputes and that China too is "concerned."

However, the land reclamation mentioned in the communiqué pointed to a different country other than China. China is not the one reclaiming land right now, Wang said at the press conference, adding that he will not name names.

The source said a certain country tried to put militarization or large-scale land reclamation in the South China Sea in the joint communiqué but failed.

"Those parts were removed from the final draft … China stopped reclaiming land last year," the source said.

Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for US Studies at Fudan University, said that China performed well as the joint communiqué did not mention The Hague arbitration ruling.

"ASEAN is under various pressure from inside and outside, particularly from the US and Japan, to come up with a joint statement against China. ASEAN did not immediately issue a statement after the ruling until now; it already indicates China has done a good job," Xin told the Global Times on Monday.

Chaos and disturbance

China's foreign minister called for a halt to the consistent hyping of the South China Sea issue by some media.

Wang criticized the interference of an outside power, calling it "one of the sources of chaos and disturbance" in regions like the Middle East, and that Asia's peace and stability should rest in its own hands, not in any outside country.

He said the ruling of the arbitration tribunal was the "wrong medicine" for the disputes and it is time to "return to the correct path."

Wang said the right path would be to return to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) as agreed in the joint communiqué and in a separate statement released jointly by Chinese and ASEAN foreign ministers.

The DOC, which was adopted by the foreign ministers of China and ASEAN members in 2002, stipulates that the parties concerned should resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means and through friendly consultations and negotiations by the sovereign states directly concerned.

Wang even set out a timetable to push for the implementation of the DOC and negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

He said that China and ASEAN nations are willing to accomplish some results on the implementation of the DOC by the end of this year, such as the establishment of a hotline between senior diplomats. He said negotiations on the framework of the COC can be accomplished by the first half of 2017 if there is no other interference.

On Monday, Wang also held bilateral talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kishida previously told the media that he would bring up the South China Sea issue at a meeting with Wang. But when Wang was asked by a Japanese reporter if the issue was indeed involved on Monday, he replied: "South China Sea, what does that have to do with Japan?"

Newspaper headline: ASEAN statement avoids arbitration

Posted in: Diplomacy

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