Asean expresses ‘concern’ over South China Sea reclamations
SINGAPORE – Southeast Asian leaders have raised “concern” over land reclamations and activities in the South China Sea in a joint statement released Thursday.
“We discussed the matters relating to the South China Sea and took note of some concerns on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” the chairman’s statement of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) stated.
The joint statement, however, did not mention China in particular, who has been conducting reclamation and building military installations in the South China Sea.
The word “concern” was omitted in the joint statement during the Philippines’ chairmanship of the Asean in 2017.
The Philippines, under the Duterte administration, has sought to improve ties with China after Manila and Beijing’s relations were strained due to the sea dispute.
The Asean leaders “emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states” that “could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.”
Though raising concern over China’s aggressiveness in the disputed waterway, the leaders agreed to a peaceful resolution of sea disputes.
“We reaffirmed our shared commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the leaders said.
“We 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 international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS,” they added.
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including parts of the West Philippine Sea, but the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated this in July 2016, favoring the Philippines’ claims in the resource-rich sea.
China, however, refused to recognize the ruling. /cbb