Asean media statement on South China Sea had consensus, says Malaysia

Foreign ministers from Asean-member nations attend a special Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting in Yuxi, south-west China's Yunnan province on June 14, 2016.
Foreign ministers from Asean-member nations attend a special Asean-China foreign ministers' meeting in Yuxi, south-west China's Yunnan province on June 14, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia on Friday (June 17) said Asean foreign ministers had "unanimously agreed" to issue a joint media statement at the end of a special meeting between Asean and China earlier this week, where the recent developments in the South China Sea took centrestage.

In a press release on Friday, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry's secretary-general Othman Hashim said that the statement's contents had "enjoyed consensus" among all the ministers of the 10-member grouping.

Malaysia on Tuesday issued what it said was a joint Asean statement expressing concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea at the conclusion of the special meeting between Asean and China held in the south-western Chinese city of Kunming. But it retracted it hours later, saying "there are urgent amendments to be made".

Tan Sri Othman on Friday said Asean Foreign Ministers began departing from Kunming when the meeting ended. "With the consensus in place, no further discussions were held regarding the issuance of the Asean Media Statement," he said.

 

"Subsequent developments pertaining to the Media Statement took place after the departure of the Asean Foreign Ministers," said Mr Othman.

The Straits Times previously reported that Malaysia had unilaterally released the text on Tuesday evening, out of frustration over Chinese pressure on Asean over the South China Sea maritime disputes.

It is understood that the statement had been blocked because Laos and Cambodia - both reliant on China for investment and aid - had objected to it.

The joint 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".

Both Indonesia and the Philippines on Thursday backed the content of the aborted joint statement, saying that although the statement was not officially released by the grouping, the foreign ministers who attended the special Asean-China meeting had all agreed initially on its content.

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.