Asean foreign ministers meeting in Vientiane reached a hard-fought consensus on the South China Sea issue and were able to “reset” ties with China, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday, as Asean put out a joint communique that referenced the maritime dispute.
Speaking to the Singapore media on the sidelines of an annual series of meetings between the Asean ministers and their counterparts from regional dialogue partners, Balakrishnan said the event “gave us the opportunity to press the reset button and to set Asean-China relations back onto a more positive trajectory.”
Contention among Asean member states over how to manage the South China Sea issue had threatened to derail the traditional joint communique issued at the end of each year’s Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
China had pressured its Asean allies to stop the bloc from taking a common stand on the issue, following a July 12 Arbitral Tribunal ruling that invalidated its claims.
The communique does not specifically mention the tribunal’s ruling. But it states, in its second paragraph, that the ministers reaffirm their commitment to maintaining regional peace and stability “as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes.”
“It’s unmistakable and unambiguous… no one is in any doubt it’s what we’re referring to,” said Balakrishnan.
Meanwhile, China also proposed fast-tracking negotiations for a more binding Code of Conduct for the South China Sea./rga