MANILA – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in a meeting on Tuesday presented a unified front and called for a halt on China’s massive and rapid reclamation activities in the disputed Spratly Islands. China, however, still won’t give in.
According to ASEAN secretary general Le Luong Minh, all nation members raised increasing concerns over China’s land reclamation works during the 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting held at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Despite the nations’ calls, China refused to talk about the territorial dispute in the said meeting. It has also insisted that it had sovereignty over its island-building.
To this, the Philippines and other countries only disagreed. They have been bespeaking a diplomatic and peaceful solution for the dispute.
“As we speak, we see no letup on the unilateral and aggressive activities of our northern neighbor in the South China Sea,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told fellow foreign ministers.
“This is not Cambodia or Laos,” one of the diplomats added, referring to a previous meeting held in Cambodia which allegedly avoided discussion of it.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam claimed about 40 hectares in the contested resource-rich region, while China has already reclaimed 1,200 hectares in the said waters.
Aside from the ASEAN nations and China, also joining the afternoon meeting was the United States (US). Although not a claimant in the disputed territories, the US stressed that the country had a national interest with the freedom of navigation and overflights in international waters and thus also sought for a resolution to the conflict.
“[The Philippines] fully supports and will proactively promote the call of the United States on the three halts – a halt in reclamation, halt in construction and a halt in aggressive actions that could further heighten tensions,” Del Rosario said, asking other countries to support it as well.
While not wanting to talk about the territorial dispute in the ASEAN meeting, China earlier said that it was willing to start negotiations for a “code of conduct” (COC).
“We are calling for the termination of such activities, which are of concern to us, and eroding trust and confidence among the parties, and complicating the very process of negotiating the code of conduct,” Minh said in an Associated Press report.
China, however, continued to urge concerned parties to support the negotiations for a COC.
“It’s not a constructive move to exercise double standards on the issue… China and ASEAN are capable enough to work together to maintain the peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.