ASEAN Ministers voice concerns over East Sea

Update: August, 07/2015 - 09:00

KUALA LUMPUR — Foreign ministers from the Asia-Pacific region yesterday discussed extensively the matters relating to the South China Sea ( East Sea) and remained seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments in the sea.

In the joint statement released yesterday, they said:

"We took note of the serious concerns expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamations in the South China Sea, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea ( East Sea)".

The ministers agreed that preventive measures should be undertaken to address development in the South China Sea ( East Sea), with the objective, among others, to enhance trust and confidence amongst parties.

"We discussed extensively the matters related to the progress of the COC. The Philippines briefed the Meeting on further developments including matters particularly relating to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," they said.

ASEAN diplomats said they are finding it more difficult to take a unified stance on territorial disputes in the sea.

Meanwhile, China and the United States clashed over their views on the disputed sea during an annual regional security forum in Kuala Lumpur, attended by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and more than a dozen others countries, including Japan, Russia and South Korea.

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed "serious concern" and criticised China's more uncompromising stance in pressing its territorial claims, although not all his counterparts from Southeast Asian countries could be vocal about the island-building activities.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, who chaired the forum, told a press conference that "the need for all parties to exercise self-restraint" was raised during their discussions.

China's increasing assertiveness has been most recently evidenced by its extensive island-building activities around reefs in the Spratly archipelago, rattling its far smaller rival claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam, and complicating relations between Beijing and Washington.

Senior officials wrangled over the wording of the statement until the final hours and they said that this year's chairman failed to keep some of the strong messages that were in earlier drafts.

"There is an erosion of trust and there can be no doubt about that," Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters.

Shanmugam, however, said at the same time that pointing the finger at a specific country will have no meaning in the ongoing process of trying to settle the territorial disputes.

China, which is also part of the 27-member forum, has insisted that the United States, Japan and other countries that have no claims in the South China Sea ( East Sea) should not interfere in its territorial disputes.

China claims sovereignty over most of the sea, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and richest fishing grounds as well as home to potentially vast reserves of natural resources.

While the pace of negotiations toward the establishment of a legally binding code of conduct in the disputed waters has been slow, China has reclaimed more than 1,200 hectares in about a year and a half, including the construction of an airstrip that appears capable of accommodating military aircraft, according to US officials.

Another subject of great attention at the forum was North Korea.

The ARF is one of very few multilateral events in which North Korea's foreign minister participates. — Kyodo/ VNS