ASEAN retracts South China Sea criticism — Malaysia

by Agence France-Presse /  June 15th, 2016 / Inquirer

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Southeast Asian countries have reversed course on a statement that expressed deep concern over events in the South China Sea, where Beijing is embroiled in territorial rows, Malaysia said Tuesday, adding that “urgent amendments” would be made.

In a strongly-worded statement released to AFP by the Malaysian foreign ministry, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had earlier warned that recent actions in the disputed waterway — where Beijing has been building militarized artificial islands — had “the potential to undermine peace”.

The statement came after what was characterized as “a candid exchange” – language that hinted at a diplomatic set-to — between the bloc’s foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart in the Chinese city of Kunming.

But just hours later, Malaysia said the ASEAN secretariat issued a recall.

“We have to retract the media statement by the ASEAN foreign ministers… as there are urgent amendments to be made,” a Malaysian foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

She said the Secretariat had approved the release of the statement, then later informed the ministry it was being rescinded.

The Chinese foreign ministry expressed puzzlement over the diplomatic dance, and denied any official document had been issued.

“We have checked with the ASEAN side, and the so-called statement reported by AFP is not an official ASEAN document,” spokesman Lu Kang said.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea — a vast tract of water through which a huge chunk of global shipping passes.

It has bolstered its claim by building artificial islands including airstrips in the area, some of which are suitable for military use.

The Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have competing claims to parts of the sea, which is believed to harbor significant oil and gas deposits.

Arbitration

The episode comes as the region braces for a ruling by a UN tribunal on a claim brought by the Philippines against China.

China does not recognize the arbitration and has reacted angrily to Manila’s legal efforts over the Beijing-controlled Scarborough Shoal, off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

ASEAN has frequently struggled to reach consensus on issues involving China, which prefers to negotiate with individual countries, rather than the bloc. Read more…

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