Jakarta, Manila agree with aborted Asean statement over South China Sea

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (second from left) and Asean foreign ministers attending an Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting in Yuxi, China, on June 14.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (second from left) and Asean foreign ministers attending an Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting in Yuxi, China, on June 14.PHOTO: AFP

They say all ministers at Kunming meet 'initially agreed on content'

Both Indonesia and the Philippines yesterday backed the content of an aborted joint Asean ministerial statement expressing concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea.

The two countries also said that although the joint Asean statement was not officially released by the grouping after its meeting with China in Kunming on Tuesday, the foreign ministers who attended the special Asean-China meeting had all agreed initially on its content.

In Manila, Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose said the agreement to issue a joint statement was "unanimous". All Asean foreign ministers agreed to "the text, at a certain point", he added.

But it was not released officially after the meeting ended and some ministers left, he said, because "some countries maybe changed their mind". He said also the statement was not retracted, as it was never released.

The statement had registered "serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea". It also called for the freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.

 

The Straits Times understands that it was blocked after China lobbied Laos and Cambodia - both of which rely on the Asian giant for aid and investments - to raise last- minute objections.

Malaysia unilaterally released the text on Tuesday evening, out of frustration over Chinese pressure on Asean over the South China Sea maritime disputes, before retracting it hours later amid confusion over whether a joint Asean statement had been issued.

The kerfuffle over the Kunming meeting's outcome comes amid rising tension over China's building of artificial islands and military facilities on reefs and shoals in the South China Sea despite complaints from other claimants such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Both Asean and China have struggled to settle the disputes despite both parties' pledges to strive for a peaceful resolution.

In Jakarta yesterday, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir insisted the statement was just a media guideline but said its content was "in line with Asean's position in previous statements about the South China Sea".

It is learnt that the Chinese had also presented the Asean ministers with a 10-point consensus, which the grouping could not accept.

"Asean was not in agreement to the use of the word 'consensus' and use of 'Asean countries' because Asean was there as Asean," Mr Jose said, referring to the lack of endorsement from the group as a whole.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond directly when asked at a daily press briefing yesterday if China had indeed prepared its own 10-point consensus statement and what the statement contained.

Without referring to the 10-point statement, ministry spokesman Lu Kang would say only that "Foreign Minister Wang Yi had already briefed journalists about the contents of the discussions and the consensus reached on some issues".

Mr Wang said on Tuesday that China and Asean had reaffirmed the need to properly handle the South China Sea issue so as not to affect their friendship and cooperation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta, Manila back aborted Asean statement'. Print Edition | Subscribe