ASEAN ministers concerned of 'serious incidents' in South China Sea

By Hai Le, Phuong Vu   July 31, 2019 | 08:19 am PT
ASEAN ministers concerned of 'serious incidents' in South China Sea
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha attends the opening ceremony of the 52nd AMM in Bangkok on July 31. Photo by AFP.
ASEAN foreign ministers have decried actions that increase tensions and undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.

In a joint communique issued Wednesday, they reaffirmed the need to avoid actions that may further complicate the situation in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea. 

"We discussed the situation in the South China Sea during which concerns were expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations, activities and serious incidents in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region," the Joint Communique of the 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM) stated.

The ministers reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea, and underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety.

The foreign ministers stressed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The 52nd AMM and related meetings are being held from July 29 to August 3 in Bangkok, Thailand, which holds ASEAN's chairmanship for this year. The event is being attended by representatives of over 30 countries, including the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who are scheduled to meet Thursday on the sidelines of the event.

Following a meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers Wednesday, Wang Yi said "we think non-regional countries should not deliberately amplify such differences or disputes from the past" or "make use of these differences to sow distrust between China and ASEAN countries." His statement was believed to be aimed at the U.S., which has been conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

The current AMM is being held amid complicating developments in the South China Sea, including China illegally sending out its oil survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 and escorts into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. Vietnam's Foreign Ministry has opposed the move multiple times and demanded that China stop all unlawful activities and withdraw its ships from Vietnamese waters.

A group of U.S. senators Monday  wrote to Pompeo, calling on him to criticize China's assertive behavior in the EEZ of other states, its use of reclaimed and militarized artificial features as platforms for coercion, and urged him to "ensure that China’s aggressive and expansionist behavior in the South China Sea is a top priority" in discussions at the ASEAN Regional Forum, which is to be held this Friday in Bangkok.

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