No Asean consensus yet on South China Sea issue

Myanmar State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (left) talks during the bilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (centre right) in Vientiane, Laos on July 24.
Myanmar State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (left) talks during the bilateral meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (centre right) in Vientiane, Laos on July 24.PHOTO: EPA

Asean foreign ministers have ended their annual meeting in Vientiane without resolving their disagreement over the South China Sea issue.

"We are focusing on the joint communique. We are still working on it," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters yesterday evening, in reference to the joint statement traditionally released at the end of each Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting.

She added, however, that the meeting was "good".

Overlapping areas in the South China Sea, through which US$5.3 trillion (S$7.2 trillion) worth of trade passes through yearly, are claimed by China, four Asean states - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei - as well as Taiwan.

But China has been increasingly assertive in its claim, to almost all of the sea, through its reclamation projects and military build-up in the disputed areas.

 

Through a combination of diplomacy, aid and financial clout, the Asian giant has leaned on its allies in Asean to prevent the

 

49-year-old bloc - which operates by consensus - from taking a common position on the issue.

 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Vientiane yesterday to take part in today's Asean-China dialogue. This is part of a series of meetings between Asean foreign ministers and their counterparts from dialogue partners such as the United States, Japan and China.

After meeting Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishan yesterday, Mr Wang said both sides agreed that Asean and China should work to "remove obstructions" and "hold firmly to the broad direction of developments in Chinese-Asean relations".

"We must deepen our mutual political trust, we must expand our practical cooperation, we must protect regional peace and stability and we must together build a common destiny," he told reporters. Singapore is the coordinator of dialogue relations between Asean and China.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'No Asean consensus yet on South China Sea issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe