Commentary 2016/10, 26 April 2016.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s remarks at the end of his official visits to Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia and Laos, whether intended or not, has the effect of undermining ASEAN’s consensus on the South China Sea (SCS) issue.
In his remarks, published in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website on 23 April 2016, Mr Wang Yi summarized the four points agreed upon by China, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia and Laos in relation to the SCS:
- The SCS disagreements is not a dispute between China and ASEAN, and the matter should not affect China-ASEAN relations.
- The rights of all countries to independently choose the way to resolve the dispute in accordance with international law should be affirmed. The imposition of a unilateral approach would be wrong.
- In accordance with Article IV of the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), China and the three ASEAN countries believe that the parties involved should resolve disputes over their territorial and maritime rights and interests through dialogue and consultation.
- China and ASEAN countries have the capacity to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the SCS, and external parties should play a constructive role, rather than the reverse.
These points glossed over ASEAN’s long-standing concerns in the SCS. ASEAN states, claimant or not, agreed that they have legitimate interests in the SCS. These include ensuring the freedom of navigation and overflight, and safe passage in the SCS, as well as the peaceful resolution of disputes and disagreements in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.
Like it or not, the SCS issue now in fact defines the relationship between ASEAN and China.
Strangely, of the three ASEAN countries cited, only Brunei Darussalam, is a claimant state in the SCS disputes.
Dr Termsak Chalermpalanupap is Fellow at the ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
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