The Latest: SE Asia nations give watered-down China rebuke


VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) — The Latest on the meeting in Laos of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (all times local):

12:45 p.m.

Southeast Asian nations have delivered a watered-down rebuke to China for its territorial expansion in the South China Sea, in a diplomatic victory for China.

After deadlocked negotiations among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the grouping issued a joint statement Monday expressing concern over China’s activities, but repeating much of what it has said before.

It also failed to mention a recent ruling by an international arbitration panel that said China’s claims over virtually the entire South China Sea was illegal. China’s claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

Attempts to rebuke China within ASEAN were stymied by its ally Cambodia, and to some extent Laos.

In its statement, the AESAN ministers said that they “remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments.”

They also said, “We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea.”

The statement is a victory for China, which has used every diplomatic muscle in its power to prevent criticism of its actions.

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12:10 p.m.

A highly anticipated meeting between Southeast Asian foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart has ended. It is expected that the two sides discussed China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi did not speak to reporters after the meeting Monday with ministers and officials from the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But he is scheduled to give a news conference shortly.

ASEAN is divided on whether to rebuke China for its territorial ambitions, which infringes on areas claimed by four AESAN member nations. Most of them want to, but Cambodia, a key Beijing ally, and Laos do not want to be critical of China.

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12:45 p.m.

Despite Cambodia’s efforts to keep the feuds over the South China Sea off the agenda for the ASEAN meetings, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. praised a recent international arbitration decision on the disputes, but stopped short of calling for Chinese compliance with the landmark ruling.

“The decision has provided a solid legal foundation on which a rules-based approach for resolving disputes in the South China Sea can be built,” Yasay said he told his ASEAN counterparts, adding the ruling__ that says China’s claim over the entire South China Sea, is illegal __ is “final and binding to all parties concerned, is a clearly established fact” and that it has “significant implications for the entire region, not just the coastal states bordering the South China Sea.”

An ASEAN statement, Yasay said, backing the legal and diplomatic processes being pursued by the Philippines will not only reflect ASEAN respect for a rules-based order, but also reaffirm ASEAN’s “centrality and solidarity in the regional security architecture.”

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10:30 a.m.

A highly anticipated meeting between Southeast Asian foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi has begun in what is expected to be tense discussions on China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea.

Wang Yi arrived at the Lao Convention Center on the outskirts of Vientiane with a large delegation before being joined by the ministers and officials from the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The grouping is divided on whether to rebuke China for its territorial ambitions, which infringes on areas claimed by four AESAN member nations. Most of them want to but Cambodia, a key Beijing ally, and Laos, do not want to.

The massive media contingent gathered here was allowed to go into the meeting room before for photographs and video opportunity that took nearly 30 minutes before the meeting could start.

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10:15 a.m.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has skipped key meetings of the Association of Southeast Nations this week in the Laotian capital with no explanation other than “urgent matters’ at home.

Anifah Aman was represented by his ministry’s secretary-general, Othman Hashim, in talks Sunday and early Monday.

A ministry, who did not want to be identified, said Anifah “at the moment is not attending as he has urgent matters to attend to.” Another Malaysian official in Vientiane said Anifah is dealing with “pressing matters at home,” and that Othman will lead the Malaysian delegation.

Anifah’s absence is striking because Malaysia is one of the claimants in the dispute with China in the South China Sea, which has dominated talks at this year’s ASEAN foreign minister’s talks.

Anifah’s name was in the official list of attendees released by host Laos, and the Malaysian government issued a statement on Friday saying Anifah will lead the Malaysian delegation in the series of meetings in Laos from Saturday to Tuesday. This indicated that his absence was a last-minute development.

It was not clear if it had anything to do with a growing scandal at home involving Prime Minister Najib Razak and a state investment fund from which $3.5 billion was stolen, allegedly with collusion of people close to Najib.

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9:30 a.m.

Thailand’s foreign minister says he and his counterparts from nine other Southeast Asian countries did not discuss the contentious issue of China’s expansionist moves in the South China Sea at an emergency meeting they had called to resolve a deadlock on the issue.

Don Pramudwinai says the ministers, however, decided to issue a joint communique, which had been held up because of disunity among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Speaking to reporters Monday after the emergency meeting, Don refused to say if the communique will contain a reference to South China Sea and China’s disputes with four ASEAN members.

“You will read it,” he said.

ASEAN has wanted to chastise China in its joint communique but has been unable to because of Cambodia, a close China ally. ASEAN can only issue statements if there is a consensus among all its members

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said cryptically: “It’s very positive … We are very much on track” to release the communique. She also would not say if the communique would refer to the South China Sea, or the decision of an international tribunal earlier this month that said China’s expansive claims in the region are illegal.

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9 a.m.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has skipped key meetings of the Association of Southeast Nations this week in the Laotian capital, and the government has given no explanation.

Anifah Aman was represented by his ministry’s secretary-general, Othman Hashim, in talks Sunday and early Monday.

His absence is striking because Malaysia is one of the claimants in the dispute with China in the South China Sea, which has dominated talks at this year’s ASEAN foreign minister’s talks.

A Laotian official told The Associated Press that Anifah “will not attend the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting this year, probably because of a tight schedule.” The Malaysian delegation will be led by Othman, he says.

Anifah’s name was in the official list of attendees released by host Laos, and the Malaysian government issued a statement on Friday saying Anifah will lead the Malaysian delegation in the series of meetings in Laos from Saturday to Tuesday.

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8 a.m.

Foreign ministers of Southeast Asian countries began arriving at a convention center for an unscheduled last-ditch attempt to hammer a consensus on how to deal with China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea.

The ministers of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations met over three sessions on Sunday without result, thanks to Cambodia’s intransigence over allowing the grouping to chastise China. They decided to meet again on Monday morning ahead of their scheduled meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

China’s disputes with four ASEAN countries — the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei — has become a major diplomatic and potential security problem for the region. China has rejected a recent international tribunal verdict that says its claim over the entire South China Sea, which it asserts on historical grounds, is illegal.

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