ASEAN calls for non-militarization, self-restraint in South China Sea activities

Aug 09, 2017, 00:17
ASEAN calls for non-militarization, self-restraint in South China Sea activities

MILITARIZATION of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) should be avoided by all claimant countries and other states so as not to complicate the situation in the disputed territories, foreign ministers of the Association of the South East Asian Nations (Asean) said in its joint communiqué on Monday. They issued it late on Sunday evening (local time) after meeting with Beijing's top diplomat in Manila during the day.

Vietnam also wanted ASEAN to insist in the statement that a planned code of conduct for the sea with China be "legally binding", which Beijing opposes.

They further reaffirmed the need to "enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with global law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)".

Five ASEAN member countries-Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam-are involved in the maritime claims over parts of the South China Sea. The sea is strategically important because it is home to a third of the world's shipping lanes. Wang said the two had "an intensive conversation", and in unusually strong terms, he later urged North Korea to show restraint. "We are ready to see the North and South resume contacts soon", Wang said. "China and ASEAN countries have been working together for the past year and we fully recognize that".

Furthermore, he said China and the ASEAN members will continue to cooperate on such "practical maritime efforts, including management and prevention of conflicts among parties through confidence building measures to prevent miscalculations on the ground".

Geng said that the new COC framework demonstrated the aspirations of China and the ASEAN to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and created a favorable atmosphere for cooperation.

The role of the Philippines as 2017 chair of ASEAN has helped China keep a lid on discord.

"We have agreed upon and approved the COC framework".

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Some critics and diplomats told Reuters that China's sudden interest in starting negotiations for the COC after 15 years of delays is meant to buy time to complete its strategic objectives in the South China Sea.

"There's still no consensus", a diplomat said earlier during the weekend, according to Agence France-Presse.

"There were views that, how can we hear them out or confront them (North Korea) if they're not there?" he told reporters after a late-night discussion with his ASEAN counterparts. "But the Philippines is trying very hard to broker compromise language".

It is unclear how a non-legally binding COC is different from the non-binding DOC.

The foreign ministers issued the statement ahead of ASEAN meetings including Monday's ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila, the Philippines.

ASEAN failed to issue the customary statement on Saturday, over what diplomats said was disagreement about whether to make oblique references to China's rapid expansion of its defense capabilities on artificial islands in disputed waters.

Duterte made a state visit to China past year, and also threatened to sever security cooperation with Beijing's traditional rival, the United States.