MANILA, Philippines – Australia, Japan and the United States yesterday urged Southeast Asian nations and China to ensure that a South China Sea code of conduct they have committed to draft would be legally binding.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China should establish a set of rules that are “legally binding, meaningful, effective and consistent with international law,” the foreign ministers of the three countries said in a statement following a meeting in Manila.
They also urged China and the Philippines to abide by last year’s international arbitration ruling on the South China Sea.
The three countries’ foreign ministers also called for a halt on land reclamation and military actions in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Japan’s new top diplomat Taro Kono expressed serious concerns over the long-seething sea disputes and “voiced their strong opposition to coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions.”
They urged rival claimant states in the South China Sea “to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarization of disputed features and undertaking unilateral actions that cause permanent physical change to the marine environment in areas pending delimitation.”
The contending states should clarify their claims peacefully in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, according to the three, who met on the sidelines of annual meetings of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers in Manila, including those from China and Russia.
Their remarks, aimed at taming aggression in the disputed waters, are considerably stronger than a joint statement of concern issued by ASEAN, a 10-nation bloc whose economies depend heavily on China.
Their stance contrasts with that of China, which opposes what it calls meddling by the US and other Western governments in the Asian disputes. Beijing wants the disputes to be resolved through one-on-one negotiations.
China’s territorial disputes in the strategic and potentially oil- and gas-rich waterway with Taiwan and ASEAN member-states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam intensified after Beijing built islands in the disputed waters in recent years and reportedly started to install a missile defense system on them, alarming rival claimant states as well as the US and other Western governments.
Meanwhile, the Philippines as ASEAN chair met with North Korea to formally convey the position of ASEAN foreign ministers on the Korean Peninsula issue.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano met with Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho of North Korea to personally convey the ASEAN position.
North Korea, for its part, said it has no intention to use or threaten any country with nuclear weapons except the US.
“The harder the US tries to get other countries to join in implementing the sanctions against the DPRK, the more it will reveal only the warranted and unfair points of the ‘sanctions resolutions’ of the UN Security Council against the DPRK,” the statement said, referring to North Korea by its official name.
In a statement, North Korea said its “possession of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles is a legitimate option for self-defense in the face of a clear and real nuclear threat posed by the US.”
“We will, under no circumstances, put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table,” Ri said.
He said Pyongyang would “teach the US a severe lesson” if it used military force against North Korea.
Cayetano, chair of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, presented the ASEAN statement to Ri shortly before the start of the East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers Meeting at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).
The secretary’s meeting with Ri came a few days after ASEAN foreign ministers issued a statement calling on North Korea to comply fully with its obligations under all relevant UN Security Council resolutions and international laws and for all concerned parties to exercise self-restraint.
“The statement was not borne out of lost friendship but because of frustration that there seems to be no opening for discussions or dialogue to address the impasse on the issues in the Korean Peninsula,” Cayetano told his North Korean counterpart.
“I have been tasked by my ASEAN colleagues to convey this to you personally and likewise affirm ASEAN’s commitment to engaging your country within the ASEAN Regional Forum, given the importance of this platform for our continued discussions,” he said.
Southeast Asian foreign ministers expressed on Saturday their grave concern over rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula stemming from long-range missile tests by North Korea. – With AP