Asean and China pledge to exercise self-restraint in South China Sea

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (third from left) participating in a cake-cutting ceremony together with Asean leaders during the Asean-China Summit in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept 7, 2016.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (third from left) participating in a cake-cutting ceremony together with Asean leaders during the Asean-China Summit in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept 7, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

VIENTIANE - Asean and Chinese leaders pledged to exercise self-restraint when dealing with the South China Sea issue in a joint statement issued after a summit of leaders in Vientiane on Wednesday (Sept 7).

The statement, issued on the 25th anniversary of the Asean-China Dialogue Relations, said: "We reaffirm our respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS ); and undertake to resolve the territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS."

"We also undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability," the statement added.

Asean and China also expressed their commitment to the full and effective implementation of an earlier agreed upon Declaration of Conduct, and "work substantively" towards the early adoption of a more binding Code of Conduct on the South China Sea "based on consensus".

Relations between the Asian giant and the 10-nation bloc have been dogged by territorial disputes in the South China Sea in recent years, to the extent of threatening Asean's consensus-driven unity.

China claims almost all the strategic and resource-rich waterway, while Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei have laid claims on some sections. China has created outposts from islands it has reclaimed from the contested waters, sparking fears of a military-build-up in the region.

It has also ignored an arbitral tribunal ruling in July - initiated by the Philippines - that rejected China's historical claims to the South China Sea, and also leaned on its allies within Asean to prevent the bloc from taking a common position on the issue.

To reduce the chances of a maritime flare-up, Asean and Chinese leaders on Wednesday adopted a joint statement on the application of the code of unplanned encounters at sea, and also guidelines for hotline communications among senior officials during maritime emergencies.

tanhy@sph.com.sg