ULAANBAATAR • A key summit between Asian and European leaders in Mongolia ended yesterday without direct mention of the South China Sea dispute in its closing statement, with diplomats describing intense discord over the issue between Europe and Asia.
China has refused to recognise last Tuesday's ruling by the arbitral tribunal in The Hague invalidating its vast claims in the South China Sea and did not take part in the proceedings brought by the Philippines. It has reacted angrily to calls by Western countries and Japan for the decision to be adhered to.
Ahead of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Ulaanbaatar, China had asserted that it did not want the South China Sea to be discussed, saying it was not an appropriate venue.
The closing statement said leaders reaffirmed a commitment to promote maritime security, safety and cooperation, freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as to refrain from using threatening force.
It also said disputes should be resolved via international law, the United Nations Charter and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
European Council president Donald Tusk told reporters that he hoped the tribunal's decision would create positive momentum in finding a solution to the dispute.
"Still, it's not so easy to agree with our Chinese partners when it comes to these issues, but our talks were difficult, tough but also promising," he said.
On Friday, the European Union issued a statement noting China's legal defeat but avoided direct reference to Beijing, reflecting discord among EU governments over how strongly to respond to the tribunal ruling.
While the EU is neutral in China's dispute with its Asian neighbours in the South China Sea, Britain, France and Germany want to make it clear that Beijing must uphold international law as it seeks a bigger global role.
Besides the Philippines and China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the strategic waterway, through which more than US$5 trillion (S$6.7 trillion) of trade moves annually.