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ASEAN Ministers Withdraw Statement on South China Sea

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Officials have their picture taken during the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Yuxi, China, June 14, 2016. ASEAN makes decisions by consensus meaning all members must agree to a final statement before its release.
Officials have their picture taken during the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Yuxi, China, June 14, 2016. ASEAN makes decisions by consensus meaning all members must agree to a final statement before its release.

ASEAN ministers meeting in China have expressed “serious concern” about rising tensions in the South China Sea. But, they withdrew a stronger statement on the issue.

Foreign ministers of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met Monday and Tuesday in Yuxi, in the southern province of Yunnan.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry released a version of the ASEAN statement to the media. However, the ministry told reporters that “urgent amendments” were needed.

That document also called for respect for international law.

An international tribunal in the Dutch city of The Hague is to release a judgement soon on the South China Sea territorial dispute. The tribunal is expected to support Phillipine claims about the disputed waterway. However, China is expected to reject the ruling.

Diplomatic sources said Wednesday that Chinese officials privately pressured ASEAN to withdraw the other version of the ministers’ statement.

In 2012, ASEAN leaders’ meeting ended without a statement. That year, Cambodia led ASEAN. Observers say the South China Sea issue was at least partly to blame.

This year Laos holds the ASEAN leadership.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.

He told VOA that Laos had “assured many stakeholders we wouldn’t see a repeat of 2012.”

However, Thitinan, said the South China Sea dispute “in the last four years has intensified to the point it has to be mentioned in any joint statement.”

The withdrawal of the early version shows disagreement among foreign ministers of ASEAN nations.

ASEAN is based on consensus. All ten member-states must agree on a statement for it to be official.

Five members have territorial claims to the South China Sea. They are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

But, the other five members, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand, do not.

China and the United States are partners with ASEAN.

China denied any official statement was released at the meeting. Yet, the government newspaper, Global Times, published a story called, “ASEAN FMs retract sea dispute statement.”

China’s Foreign Minister told reporters, “Cooperation between China and ASEAN is far greater than any specific discord, including the South China Sea.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, Curtis Chin, called the withdrawal, or retraction, “incredible.” He told VOA it, “underscores both the high stakes involved in the South China Sea and how much further ASEAN has to go.”

Additional territorial tensions with Japan

Another maritime dispute between Japan and China gained attention soon after the ASEAN summit.

A Chinese Coast Guard ship sails in the East China Sea near the disputed isles known as Senkaku isles in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China in this picture taken and released by Japan's Coast Guard.
A Chinese Coast Guard ship sails in the East China Sea near the disputed isles known as Senkaku isles in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China in this picture taken and released by Japan's Coast Guard.

Japan says a Chinese intelligence ship entered Japanese waters early Wednesday.

The ship was observed early in the morning near an island in southern Japan. Japan said the ship left its waters about 90 minutes later. The incident took place where the Pacific Ocean meets the South China Sea. The area is not part of the territorial disputes with ASEAN members.

Japan warned that any foreign naval ships entering its waters for any reason except “innocent passage” would be ordered to leave.

Last week, Japan said it will use all and any methods to protect its territory. It made the statement after a Chinese ship passed close to islands claimed by both countries. Japan controls the islands that it calls Senkaku. China calls them Diaoyu.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary criticized China for increasing tensions.

But, China’s defense ministry said it has the right to sail through those waters.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Steve Herman and Esha Sarai reported parts of this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Words in This Story

tribunal –n. a court that has authority in a specific area of law

assure –v. to ensure, to say something is going to happen

stakeholders –n. people with a material interest in a concern, business or government

discord –n. disagreement, strife

incredible –adj. not believable

underscores –v. shows the importance of something

high stakes –adj. describing something in which those involved have an intense interest or a lot of money at stake

consensus –n. agreement by all involved

retract –n. to take back, to withdraw something such as a statement

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