Chinese Premier Li Keqiang talks during the 20th ASEAN China Summit in Manila, Philippines, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. Linus Escandor/Pool Photo via AP

ASEAN goes soft on China as sea code talks start
Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) - November 16, 2017 - 5:15am

MANILA, Philippines — The ASEAN, under Philippine chairmanship, declined to mention China's expansive island-building activities in the South China Sea in its chairman statement.

In its chairman statement released after the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, the ASEAN merely mentioned "non-militarization" and "self-restraint" among claimant states.

"In this regard, we further reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states," the statement read.

This echoed the joint communique issued during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Manila last August, where the ministers said they "took note of the concerns expressed by some ministers 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."

READ: ASEAN stresses self-restraint, non-militarization in South China Sea

The 10-member regional bloc welcomed its improving relations with China following the adoption of the framework of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea last August.

The ASEAN is looking forward to the start of the negotiations on the COC, which was announced at the ASEAN-China Summit in Manila.

The chairman statement stressed the need to adhere to a peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The statement, however, did not mention the arbitral ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal based in the Hague, Netherlands.

RELATED: With no reference to arbitral ruling, ASEAN to pursue sea code

In July 2016, the international tribunal issued a landmark award in favor of the Philippines, invalidating China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea. The tribunal also ruled that Beijing violated its commitment under the UNCLOS by constructing artificial islands in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

The regional bloc, meanwhile, reaffirmed its commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

"We reaffirmed our commitment to the full and effective implementation of the DOC in its entirety, and the importance of undertaking confidence building and preventive measures to enhance, among others, trust and confidence amongst parties," the statement read.

The ASEAN-China joint working group meeting on the implementation of the DOC is set to convene in Viet Nam early next year.

In a separate chairman statement of the 20th ASEAN-China Summit, the concerned parties "welcomed the positive developments in the South China Sea."

The ASEAN and China reiterated their commitment to the implementation of the DOC. Implementation will include confidence-building measures and practical maritime cooperation.

FULL TEXT: Chairman’s statement for the 31st ASEAN Summit

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