ASEAN nations have made their first official comment on maritime disputes in the South China Sea since an international tribunal ruled against China’s claims in the disputed waters earlier this month. The statement comes as a result of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Laos.
The Joint Communique, released on Monday, includes a wide range of issues, the South China Sea question among them.
Previously on Sunday Southeast Asian nations failed to agree on maritime disputes in the South China Sea. It happened after Cambodia blocked any mention to an international court ruling against Beijing in their statement. The Philippines and Vietnam both wanted a communiqué issued by ASEAN foreign ministers after their meeting to refer to the ruling and the need to respect international law.
With the compromise being found, the statement expressed serious concerns over land reclamations and escalations of activities in the area, but did not directly challenge China nor mention the ruling. But some parts of the agreement refer to China indirectly.
“The Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner,” the statement mentioned.
The statement also called for non-militarisation and asked “to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.”
It was also highlighted the importance of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea: “The Parties reaffirm their respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognised principles of international law.”
The statement was released soon after a meeting between China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and ASEAN representatives.