Filipino and Vietnamese activists display placards during a rally over the South China Sea disputes in front of a Chinese consulate in Makati city, metro Manila, on Aug 6, 2016. (Reuters photo)
The chairman’s statement to be issued after a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Laos this week will avoid any mention of the landmark July ruling by an international tribunal that rejected China’s vast claims to most of the South China Sea, an Asean source said Sunday.
Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations instead limit themselves to reiterating their concerns over developments in the disputed sea without mentioning China by name, according to the source.
“We remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some leaders on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area,” according to a draft of the chairman’s statement penned by China-leaning Laos, this year’s chair of the grouping.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled on July 12 that China’s claims to economic rights across large swathes of the South China, which overlap with those of the Philippines and other neighbouring countries, have no legal basis. China has rejected the ruling as “a piece of wastepaper” and insisted that disputes in the resource-rich body of water must be addressed by claimants through bilateral negotiations.
Echoing the statements of previous summits, the draft notes the importance of full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and Asean in 2002 and the early conclusion of ongoing talks on the framework of a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
The importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation that could escalate the dispute are also mentioned in the statement.
Asean and China plan to show progress in their cooperation by issuing official guidelines for hotline communications among senior officials of China and Asean.
A separate joint statement on the application of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea will also be released in a sideline meeting between Asean and China to ensure maritime safety in the disputed sea.
In the meeting of Asean foreign ministers held in Vientiane in July, a united assessment on the international tribunal’s ruling also proved to be unattainable.
In that meeting, the Philippines and Vietnam, two of the four Asean members with claims to parts of the South China Sea, demanded that the communique “welcome” the ruling.
However, they were blocked by Asean members with close ties with China, most notably Cambodia, that have sought to avoid antagonising China as it is a major source of aid and an important investment partner.
While the country that holds the rotating Asean chairmanship is supposed to host two summits a year, due to logistical concerns Laos will be hosting the 28th and 29th Asean summits back to back this week, effectively resulting in a single meeting.
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