Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi: Source: Wikimedia
Beijing says it has agreed with Brunei, Cambodia and Laos that the South China Sea territorial dispute should not affect relations between China and Asean, its foreign ministry has announced.
The four nations also agreed that territorial and maritime disputes should be resolved through consultations and negotiations by “directly concerned parties” through Asean’s 2012 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea with China, which claims virtually the entire sea. China is the largest trading partner for several Asean members.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the media during a visit to Laos that Beijing had reached “an important consensus” with Brunei, Cambodia and Laos.
The maritime dispute was not a China-Asean dispute and it should not affect overall Asean relations, the ministry announced in reference to the agreement.
China’s South China Sea claims are Asean’s most controversial issue, as its members struggle to balance mutual support with their deepening Chinese economic relationships.
In February Asean expressed serious concern about growing international tension over the sea, through which an estimated US$5 trillion worth of trade sails each year with huge potential oil and gas reserves.
Land reclamation and escalating activity had increased tension and could undermine peace and create instability, Asean said.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced concern over the dispute at another Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur last November.
“There is an ongoing large-scale and rapid reclamation project aimed at creating a base for military purposes,” Abe said after the conference. “I am seriously concerned about the move to change the status quo.”
Washington has condemned Beijing’s efforts to construct artificial islands, runways and ports in the South China Sea and its naval vessels have sailed close to disputed territory to underline the right to freedom of navigation.
China has hoped to keep the issue off the agenda at international summits while Vietnam and the Philippines have tried to raise the issue at Asean conferences.
Cambodia, a close ally of China with no claim to South China Sea, was accused of dividing Asean in 2012 when its refusal to discuss China resulted in no customary statement being issued for the first time after an Asean summit. Beijing has consistently pushed for the issue to be dealt with bilaterally rather than through Asean.