China asks Singapore to "respect" its position on South China Sea ruling

Soldiers of People's Liberation Army (PLA) take part in a search and rescue exercise near Qilian Yu subgroup in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
Soldiers of People's Liberation Army (PLA) take part in a search and rescue exercise near Qilian Yu subgroup in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - The Chinese government has asked Singapore to "respect" China's position on the outcome of a recent ruling by an international tribunal and the consensus it has reached with Asean.

In a statement on Friday (Aug 5), the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said China had made its position on the issue "very clearly". 

"The related ruling is illegal, invalid and has no binding force," she said. 

"China hopes that Singapore...can maintain an objective and fair position as the coordinator of China and Asean dialogue relations, so as to advance Sino-Singapore relations and healthy and stable China-Asean ties."

Ms Hua was responding to queries from Chinese media regarding Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments at a reception hosted by the United States Chamber of Commerce and US-Asean Business Council in Washington on Tuesday, Singapore time. The Chinese media had reported PM Lee's comments.

PM Lee had said that he did not think China has changed its policy on its claims in the South China Sea after the ruling on July 12 by an international tribunal.

He said very few countries would "walk back" from the positions that they have taken to say "well, it's not quite so absolute and it wasn't so clearly mine after all".

But PM Lee said he did not think that any of the claimants , which include China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, would want to "push it to the brink."

"They have interests, they have claims, they would want to maintain them, but nobody wants to go to war," he had told US officials and business leaders.

A recent international tribunal has ruled that China's claims to a number of reefs and features in the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea has no legal basis, in a case brought by the Philippines.

The 10-member Asean put out a joint communique that referred to maritime disputes after a meeting of its foreign ministers in Vientiane, Laos last month.

The communique did not specifically mention the tribunal’s ruling. But it stated, in its second paragraph, that the ministers reaffirm their commitment to maintaining regional peace and stability “as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes... in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)". The tribunal was held under the auspices of Unclos. 

Ms Hua on Friday said Asean had also clearly stated its position saying that it, as a collective entity, did not hold a position on the tribunal ruling in the recently concluded Asean foreign minister’s meeting.

The ministers’ joint communique, however, did not state explicitly that Asean did not hold a position on the ruling.

Asean and China had separately in Vientiane issued a joint statement on the “full and effective” implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed in 2002.

kohping@sph.com.sg