Vivian to co-chair Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan to co-chair Special Asean-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Kunming in south-western Yunnan, China.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan to co-chair Special Asean-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Kunming in south-western Yunnan, China. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan arrives today in Kunming in south-western Yunnan province for a Special Asean-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting.

As Singapore is the current Asean-China dialogue relations co-ordinator, Dr Balakrishnan will co-chair the meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi tomorrow, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday.

The meeting will discuss Asean-China relations and the Full and Effective Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and Consultations on the Code of Conduct, the MFA said in a statement.

The meeting comes as fears of conflict rise over China's construction of military facilities on islands in the South China Sea, and amid freedom-of-navigation and overflight missions by the United States.

Tensions have also been heightened by an impending United Nations tribunal ruling over an arbitration case on China's South China Sea claims, which the Philippines brought to the court in 2013.

A decision is set to be announced in weeks, with many expecting the ruling to go against China, which claims almost all of the sea.

China has slammed the arbitration and refused to take part in proceedings, insisting instead on direct negotiations between claimant states. The other claimants to the disputed waters are Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.

But although China has said it will not abide by the ruling, it has been on a campaign to garner international support.

In April, it announced a "consensus" with Brunei, Cambodia and Laos that territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be left to individual states, rather than Asean as a whole.

This led to criticisms from veteran Singaporean diplomats Bilahari Kausikan and Ong Keng Yong, who saw it as a move to split the 10-member bloc.

The meeting in Kunming could also be watched for developments on Singapore's proposal for an expanded Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea that includes coast guard ships, to help prevent untoward clashes in the South China Sea.

Asean and China had previously agreed to explore this proposal.

MFA added that Dr Balakrishnan and the Asean foreign ministers will be hosted to dinners by Mr Wang and provincial leaders in Yunnan. Dr Balakrishnan will be accompanied on the two-day trip by senior MFA officials.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'Vivian to co-chair Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting'. Print Edition | Subscribe