THE final statement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit was silent on China’s land reclamation and militarization in the disputed South China Sea as well as Manila’s arbitral victory over China.
Instead, the statement issued yesterday by President Rodrigo Duterte, the Asean chairman, only referred to the reclamation of reefs in the disputed waters and the installation of military facilities there and aired the leaders’ concerns “over recent developments in the area.”
“We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation and over-flight in and above the South China Sea,” the statement read.
“We reaffirmed the importance of the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities, and avoiding actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursuing the peaceful resolution of disputes, without resorting to the threat or use of force,” it added.
The mention of land reclamation and militarization were not featured in an earlier draft of the statement, but Vietnam, according to sources, insisted that it should be included in the communique.
Reports said that the language in the final statement was rather soft from the earlier draft statement leaked to media, validating reports that China had lobbied for the Asean against mentioning its activities in the disputed waters out of its final statement.
Observers noted that the tame language of the Asean Chairman Statement was expected Saturday night after President Duterte told a news conference that he and Asean leaders did not talk about the issue of Chinese military buildup in the South China Sea during their meeting.
“We never talked about anything (on) build up or something. It would be useless. Actually it could be useless, except for fighting terrorism,” the President said, referring to their discussion about the manner of dealing with with the Chinese militarization in the disputed South China Sea.
Earlier, the President also said that talks about Manila’s victory over China last year before the United Nations arbitration tribunal which invalidated Beijing’s claims of almost the entire South China Sea was not a matter for Asean which he insisted was a matter between Manila and Beijing.
The final Asean Chairman Statement only summed up the leaders’ discussion on the South China Sea in two paragraphs compared to the eight paragraphs it devoted in last year’s Asean Chairman Statement issued in Laos.
“We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation and overflight in and above the South China Sea, we welcomed the operationalization of the Guidelines for Hotline Communications among Senior Officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Asean Member States and China in response to Maritime Emergencies in the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and look forward to the early operationalization of the other early harvest measure which is in the Joint Statement on the Application of Code for Planned Encounters at Sea (CUES) in the South China,” the final statement said.
The Asean leaders also “underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation” of the Asean-China DOC as it welcomed progress to complete the framework for a Code of Conduct in the South China by the middle of this year.
“We recognized the long term benefits that would be gained from having the South China Sea as a Sea of peace, stability and sustainable development.”
“We took note of the improving cooperation between Asean and China,” the statement said.