MANILA – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Saturday skipped mention of China’s arbitration loss and its militarization and land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea.
The ASEAN Chairman’s statement however “reaffirmed the shared commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region… in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”
The joint statement, which was issued early Sunday, was silent on China’s defeat before the Hague-based arbitration court, which invalidated the basis of Beijing’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea.
It also avoided any mention of Beijing’s island-building activities in the disputed waters, or of Chinese militarization of these islands.
Several ASEAN leaders had reportedly called for the joint statement to mention the need to avoid “land reclamation and militarization that may further complicate the situation.”
ASEAN member-states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have claims that overlap those of China in the South China Sea.
The Philippines was earlier urged to take advantage of its chairmanship of ASEAN and use its arbitral victory as reference during discussions on a maritime code of conduct.
But 2 ASEAN diplomatic sources earlier on Saturday told Reuters that Chinese embassy representatives in Manila had lobbied the Philippines to keep tacit references to Beijing’s island-building and arming of artificial islands out of the statement.
At least 4 drafts on the issue were readied by other ASEAN delegates in case the Philippines opened discussions on the matter, a senior diplomat familiar with the deliberations told ABS-CBN News.
But President Rodrigo Duterte insisted the arbitral ruling was a”non-issue” during the ASEAN meetings this year, a position that apparently prevailed over his peers and frustrated some of them.
The ASEAN joint statement is usually released within just minutes of the conclusion of the summit.
But for the first time in its history, the ASEAN Summit wrapped up without issuing the chairman’s statement on the same day as the conclusion of the meetings.
The ASEAN joint statement meanwhile called for the “full and effective implementation” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea “in its entirety.”
It also cited “the progress to complete” a framework document by June this year, a target that would “facilitate the early adoption of the code of conduct.”
The statement also said ASEAN leaders “took note of the improving cooperation between ASEAN and China.”
— with a report from Christian Esguerra, ABS-CBN News