ASEAN Leaders Downplay South China Sea

ASEAN Leaders Downplay South China Sea

The ASEAN Summit is an international diplomatic meeting that takes place twice a year. It is held by the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The forum is an opportunity for the representatives of those countries to discuss issues regarding the economic and cultural development of countries in Southeast Asia.

The summit is also a great opportunity for talking about geopolitical issues. Key political players like China and the United States are invited as well.

The 29th ASEAN summit is taking place now in Vientiane, Laos. One of the important topics discussed was the South China Sea.

Carefully Worded Statements

The Asian leaders at the summit played down the seriousness of tensions over the South China Sea. They talked about the issue. Leaders did not shy away from discussing it. But the language used was not strong. Where statements bring up the South China Sea, the wording is cautious.

On Thursday, a carefully worded statement had been prepared. Before it was even released Beijing announced its frustration regarding countries that are from outside of the region. Countries, that in China’s opinion interfere with the situation.

The statement would have had the leaders of the 10 ASEAN countries and six others leaders, including United States President Barack Obama and the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as endorsers. With these leaders reaffirming how important it is to maintain “peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation in and over-flight in the South China Sea”.

The draft of the statement also included a differing opinion. It allowed for several other leaders to express their concern over “recent developments in the South China Sea”

The Status of the South China Sea

The South China Sea is a stretch of water of strategic importance. It sees $5 trillion of trade move through it every year. China claims most of the sea. Five other ASEAN members: Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have claims to the marine territory as well. The competing claims make it a hotspot of regional tension.

A July ruling by an international court at The Hague declared China’s islands illegal. China has been constructing artificial islands in the South China Sea. The islands bring legitimacy to China’s claims over the area. It is a strategy that has begun some time ago and that regional neighbors have complained about. The international court’s ruling invalidates China’s claims to almost the entirety of the waterway.

However, the statement, that Reuters could see a copy of before it was final, did not mention the recent court ruling from The Hague.

Officials at the summit said that talks between leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had gone well.

But after the talks, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement. It paraphrased Li in saying that China wanted to work with other Southeast Asian countries to dispel interference and properly handle the issue of the South China Sea.

The statement was not elaborate, but the wording is the kind that Chinese diplomacy uses to refer to countries that are from the outside of the region and have no direct involvement in the situation. And who want to weigh in on the dispute. It is highly likely that China was referring to the United States.


Image source: here.