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ASEAN skips mention of South China Sea ruling in statement

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, center, and Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., prepare for a photo, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – China Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, Monday, July 25, 2016. AP/Sakchai Lalit

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Monday issued a joint communique without any mention of the recent ruling on Philippines's claims against China.

The statement was issued following a deadlock among Southeast Asian officials at the meeting in Vientiane, Laos who tried to reach a consensus to counter China's territorial expansion in the South China Sea.

The communique contained seven points under the subtopic on the South China Sea but omitted any mention of the July 12 arbitral tribunal's decision delivering a victory to the Philippines.

Without any direct mention of China, which built islands over disputed features, the ASEAN ministers criticized land reclamation that heightens tension in the waterway.

"We remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region," the ASEAN communique read.

The ministers also made a reference to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, under which the arbitral tribunal was convened in 2013 to hear the case of the Philippines last year, urging parties to "pursue peaceful resolution of disputes."

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A separate statement was issued reaffirming commitments to the non-binding Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to which members of the ASEAN and China are signatories. Besides the Philippines and China, bloc members Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia are locked in a longstanding maritime spat over parts of the strategic route.

In the statement on the DOC, the ministers recalled the ASEAN statement issued in 2012 at the 15th ASEAN-China Summit urging rival claimants to resolve the disputes through peaceful means, "without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned."

Attempts to rebuke China within ASEAN were stymied by its ally Cambodia, and to some extent Laos. The statement is a victory for China, which has used every diplomatic muscle in its power to prevent criticism of its actions.

US-China meeting

United States National Security Adviser Susan Rice was in Beijing on Monday for talks with Chinese officials in the highest-level visit by a White House official since an international tribunal issued a ruling that invalidated China's expansive claims in the South China Sea.

The South China Sea and the ruling was not raised in opening remarks in front of reporters at Rice's meeting with China's top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

On Monday, Rice told Yang that the U.S. and China have been cooperating more closely on global issues such as nuclear nonproliferation and the Ebola epidemic. She acknowledged that the sides also faced other "global issues and challenges."

"To the extent that we are able to surface those challenges in candor and openness, I'm confident that we will be able to work on them as we have many others in the past," Rice said.

Yang said that the sides had stable relations, but that there were still differences that had to be carefully managed. -- with a report from the Associated Press

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