ASEAN emphasizes importance of non-militarization and self-restraint to resolve disputes in South China Sea
The 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers' meeting Sunday evening expressed concerns over China’s land reclamation activities and called for non-militarization in the disputed South China Sea.
"We discussed extensively the matters relating to the South China Sea and 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," the association said in a joint communique.
Released a day after the annual ministerial meeting in Manila on Saturday, the much-awaited statement defied Beijing and took a stronger stand on the South China Sea issue.
Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said top diplomats engaged in candid discussions and passionate arguments about very sensitive and important issues on Saturday.
"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 Declaration of Conduct that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea," the statement said.
China was not mentioned in the communique; however, it has been documented that the activities mentioned are often directed at Beijing.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, including a cluster of islands, reefs and atolls further south called the Spratlys. ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims on the waters.
The foreign ministers also welcomed in the statement the adoption of a framework Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea which has been agreed with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
"We warmly welcomed the improving cooperation between ASEAN and China and are encouraged by the conclusion and adoption of the framework of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which will facilitate the work for the conclusion of an effective COC on a mutually-agreed timeline," the statement added.
Earlier, Wang told reporters the adoption of the framework created a solid foundation for negotiations that could start this year "when the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable, and if there is no major disruption from outside parties".
Wang made no reference to any country, however, China’s activities on the man-made islands have sparked tensions and triggered concerns among several nations, including the U.S.