ASEAN evades reference to China’s militarization of the South China Sea, as it hails the ‘positive momentum’ in Southeast Asia’s ties with China
ASEAN CHAIR. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte chairs the 31st ASEAN Summit, where Southeast Asian leaders avoid directly criticizing China over its militarization of the disputed South China Sea. Malacañang photo
MANILA, Philippines – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) avoided hitting China in the Chairman’s Statement it issued Thursday morning, November 16, as it noted the “improving relations” between Southeast Asian nations and their powerful neighbor.
This statement is softer than previous ASEAN Chairman’s Statements that tackled the disputed South China Sea.
The ASEAN Chairman’s Statement, the most important document issued by ASEAN after every leaders’ summit, evaded reference to China’s militarization of the disputed waters.
Instead, ASEAN vaguely cited the need for “non-militarization and self-restraint.”
It also emphasized the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), two documents that stress the need for peace in disputed waters.
The ASEAN Chairman’s Statement said, “We likewise reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, maritime safety and security, rules-based order and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea.”
“In this regard, we further reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, including those mentioned in the DOC that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea, and stressed the need to adhere to the peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the statement added.
The statement was released at around 11:05 am on Thursday, more than 24 hours after the ASEAN Summit ended.
In the summit last April, the Chairman’s Statement was out the morning after the summit ended. In Laos in September 2016, the same document was released shortly before the closing ceremonies.