‘ASEAN under pressure on Souht China Sea issue’

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The United States yesterday acknowledged that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was under “tremendous” pressure on the South China Sea issue.

Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the US Department of State, said ASEAN still “held on to its principles” by defeating attempts to drop “militarization,” self-restraint” and “land reclamation” from the joint communiqué at the end of the meeting in Manila.

“So the ASEAN foreign ministers’ joint communiqué, which came out at the end of the forum, contains language on the South China Sea, and that reflects ASEAN’s important role in strengthening the rules-based order that benefits all nations, both large and small,” Nauert said in a press briefing in Washington.?

The US welcomed the ASEAN foreign ministers’ reaffirmation of the importance of freedom of navigation, noting that the US shared their concerns over developments that Washington considered to be “unconducive” to regional stability, such as land reclamation.?

“ASEAN was under tremendous pressure, but still held on to its principles,” she stressed.?

Nauert added ASEAN also stressed the importance of exercising self-restraint, including refraining from militarization of features in the South China Sea. ?

The US reiterated that the July 16 arbitral ruling is binding on China and the Philippines.?

Nauert said the communiqué emphasized the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, such as the July 2016 decision of the tribunal, which is “binding on China and the Philippines as provided for in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).?

“I want to just get the language right, so bear with me here – as is provided in the Law of the Sea Convention,” Nauert said.?

ASEAN foreign ministers called for non-militarization and self-restraint.?

“We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, including those mentioned in the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea,” the ministers declared in a joint communiqué supposed to be issued on Saturday.?

The statement, issued on Sunday, said the ministers discussed extensively the matters relating to the South China Sea and took note of the concerns expressed by some of them on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.?

The US, Japan and Australia on Monday urged the Philippines to abide by the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling in the case against China’s expansive and excessive claims in the South China Sea, saying it is final and legally binding on both parties, the Australia-Japan-United States Trilateral Strategic Dialogue joint statement said.?

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met in Manila for the seventh ministerial meeting of the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue. – With Jaime Laude

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