No pressure on any Asean country to retract joint statement on South China Sea: China

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (third from right) and foreign ministers from Asean-member nations attend a special Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting in Yuxi, Yunnan Province, on June 14, 2016.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (third from right) and foreign ministers from Asean-member nations attend a special Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting in Yuxi, Yunnan Province, on June 14, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China did not pressure any specific Asean country to retract an Asean joint statement on South China Sea developments, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang on Wednesday (June 15).

"All countries, including the 10 members of Asean, are sovereign states where they make their own independent policy decisions. Not every country in the world act according to the pressures of others," he said at a routine media briefing.

Mr Lu was responding to a question on media reports that China had exerted pressure to get the statement retracted.

The statement was issued by Malaysia on Tuesday evening, after a rare special meeting between Asean and China in the south-western Chinese city Kunming to discuss the commemoration of 25 years of dialogue relations between the two sides.

However, the South China Sea territorial disputes and recent heightened tensions as a result of China's building of artificial islands on disputed reefs and militarisation of these islands, as well as a case brought to a United Nations tribunal by the Philippines against China's claims, figured highly at the meeting that overran by several hours.

Malaysia later that evening retracted the strongly worded statement, which said recent and ongoing developments have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.

But wire agencies reported on Wednesday, quoting sources, that China had lobbied Laos, the current Asean chair, to withdraw the statement. Asean operates on the principle of consensus.

Referring to the confusion, Mr Lu said that it was all "media hype".

"This was a closed-door meeting, and there had been no plans to release any so-called joint statement," he said.

Mr Lu also clarified that Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's absence at the press conference on Tuesday was not due to any differences between China and Asean. As Singapore was the country coordinator of relations between Asean and China, Dr Balakrishnan was to have had held a joint press briefing with his China counterpart Wang Yi.

 

However, he did not appear at the briefing and instead the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in which Dr Balakrishnan noted "the serious concerns expressed by the Asean foreign ministers over the developments on the ground and called on Asean and China to continue working together to maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea".

Mr Lu on Wednesday said the comments by Mr Wang at the press conference "were discussed and agreed upon by both the Chinese and Singaporean side".

"They fully reflect what happened at the meeting and the basic consensus reached by all parties," added Mr Lu.

He also said the meeting was initiated by Asean and was a success.

"If there is a need from both sides, I am sure we will continue to hold such meetings, be it in China or in any of the Asean countries,"he added.

China is locked in overlapping territorial disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.