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ASEAN ministers object to coercive South China Sea actions

By Nguyen Tien   August 2, 2019 | 07:06 pm PT
ASEAN ministers object to coercive South China Sea actions
Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh (C) at the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Bangkok, August 2, 2019. Photo by Vietnam News Agency.
Foreign ministers attending the East Asia Summit have expressed deep concern and objection to sovereignty assertions via coercive actions.

At the 9th East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers' Meeting held in Bangkok Friday, they agreed that militarization and other actions that threaten the legal economic activities of coastal states have eroded trust, created tension and negatively affected the region's peaceful and stable environment.

A statement by Vietnam's Foreign Ministry also said that the foreign ministers reasserted the importance of maintaining peace, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and over flight above the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.

The also emphasized the importance of not militarizing and taking other actions that complicate the situation and unilaterally change the status quo; and of resolving disputes peacefully in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

They also emphasized that all sovereignty claims must be based on international law and voiced objection to the use of coercive actions to assert sovereignty claims.

Speaking at the meeting, Vietnam's Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said there have been unilateral activities that violated the sovereignty and legal interests of coastal states, and stressed that Vietnam has full historical and legal bases to assert its sovereignty over the Paracel (Hoang Sa) and Spratly (Truong Sa) Islands in the waterway.

Minh reiterated ASEAN's principal position on the South China Sea and called for increased trust, non-militarization and self-restraint; not taking actions to complicate the situation and increase tension, not using violence or threatening to use violence; serious compliance with international law including the 1982 UNCLOS, serious implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea; and formulation of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that's effective and in accordance with international law.

He said countries in the region need to promote maritime cooperation and connections, both of which are areas that EAS members have potential for.

At the meeting, the foreign ministers of EAS member states signed a number of key documents and agreed to promote cooperation in prioritized areas.

The EAS is an annual ASEAN-led regional forum for strategic dialogue in political and economic issues that was first held in 2005. Its members currently are the 10 ASEAN member states, the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

With ASEAN at the center, the EAS seeks to enhance a multilateral approach to regional and world order based on international law, contributing to peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

The 9th EAS Foreign Ministers' Meeting is part of the 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting and Post Ministerial Conferences held from July 29 to August 3 in Thailand, who currently chairs ASEAN.

Concerns over South China Sea issues have cast shadows on the meeting, particularly with China sending oil survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts to the southern area of Vietnam’s waters near the Vanguard Bank in early July.

Minh has voiced opposition to the Chinese operation at the ASEAN meeting, where he told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that China should avoid activities that add tension to the waters.

The U.S.'s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also critized Chinese coercion at the event.

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