SOUTH-EAST Asian foreign ministers gathered in the Laos capital Vientiane yesterday remained divided on their attitudes towards China and the South China Sea.
The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ends conferences with a joint statement, but the determination of some members to describe China’s conduct as a form of territorial expansion has whipped up a diplomatic quagmire.
The cardinal ASEAN principle is decisions by consensus, which means that any country can veto a proposal, and Cambodia appears set on doing this.
It blocked a reference to the dispute in 2012 that ended with the ministers failing to issue a statement for the first time in ASEAN history.
Laotian Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith made no mention of the dispute in his opening remarks.
“Despite conflicts and challenges that have occurred in different parts of the world, peace, stability and development co-operation among nations remain the prevailing trend in this era,” he said.
The talks in Vientiane dealt with terrorism, economy, climate change, security, the impact of Brexit and other issues, but the elephant in the room was the July 12 decision by a Hague-based tribunal.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration found that China had no basis for claims to territorial waters near the Philippines, even though Beijing warned beforehand that it did not welcome the court’s mediation and would not honour its findings.