No pressure on any Asean member to retract joint statement: China

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

China did not pressure any specific Asean country to retract an Asean joint statement on South China Sea developments, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official has said.

"All countries, including the 10 members of Asean, are sovereign states which make their own independent policy decisions. Not every country in the world acts according to the pressures of others," ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a routine media briefing yesterday.

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 special meeting between Asean and China in the south-western Kunming city to discuss the commemoration of 25 years of dialogue relations between both sides.

However, the South China Sea disputes dominated the meeting, which overran by several hours.

Later the same evening, Malaysia 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.

However, news agencies, quoting sources, reported yesterday that China had lobbied Laos - the current Asean chair - to withhold support. Asean operates on the principle of consensus.

Referring to the confusion, Mr Lu said 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 added.

He also clarified that Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's absence at Tuesday's press conference was not due to any differences between China and Asean.

As Singapore is the country coordinator for Asean-China dialogue relations, Dr Balakrishnan was to have held a joint press briefing with his China counterpart Wang Yi. But he was not at the briefing and, instead, Singapore's Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which he 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 yesterday said Mr Wang's comments had been "discussed and agreed upon by both the Chinese and Singaporean sides".

Mr Wang acknowledged on Tuesday that China and the Philippines "have their differences" but that this was not a problem between China and Asean. He also said the atmosphere at the meeting was "good".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'No pressure on any Asean member to retract joint statement: China'. Print Edition | Subscribe