South China Sea developments an ASEAN concern

By Viet Anh   June 27, 2020 | 04:30 am PT
South China Sea developments an ASEAN concern
Prime Minister at a press conference at the end of the 36th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi, June 26, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
ASEAN leaders expressed concern over recent South China Sea developments and called on all parties to build trust at the bloc's latest summit.

"We discussed the situation in the South China Sea, during which concerns were expressed over land reclamations, recent developments, activities and serious incidents, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region," reads the chairman's statement following the 36th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi on Friday.

The statement followed a series of provocative actions by China conducted in the South China Sea, known in Vietnam as the East Sea, since the start of this year, while countries around the world have focused on their Covid-19 response.

China formed the so-called "Xisha" and "Nansha" districts on Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands, sunk Vietnamese fishing vessels off the Paracels, unilaterally issued a fishing ban and sent a ship to tag an oil and gas exploration vessel of Malaysia.

Recently, China also announced a vegetable farming project on Woody (Phu Lam) Island of the Paracels to strengthen its illegal sovereignty claim. China had sent two diplomatic notes to the United Nations to make the infamous Four Sha claim, which covers a broader range than the notorious, illegal nine-dash line.

For its part, Vietnam has firmly denounced and rejected all illegal actions by China as violations of its sovereignty.

In the chairman's statement, ASEAN leaders called on member countries to strengthen mutual trust and refrain from activities that complicate or escalate disputes and harm peace and stability in the region. They also need to avoid actions that might complicate the situation and pursue peaceful resolutions and comply with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the statement noted.

"We reaffirmed that the 1982 UNCLOS is the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction and legitimate interests over maritime zones, as it sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out."

The association also 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 on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

ASEAN's common commitment is to seek peaceful resolutions in disputes that respect legal and diplomatic processes.

"We emphasized the need to maintain and promote an environment conducive to COC (Code of Conduct in the South China Sea) negotiations, and thus welcomed practical measures that could reduce tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings and miscalculation," the statement reads.

At a press conference Friday, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said ASEAN had proposed to soon restore COC negotiations, disrupted by the pandemic.

ASEAN leaders together affirmed the importance of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), which it adopted following the ASEAN Summit that took place last June.

The chairman’s statement stressed the association would continue to honor AOIP by further promoting the objectives and principles contained in the Outlook, as well as encouraging external partners to support and undertake cooperation with ASEAN on key areas through practical projects to promote mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual benefit through ASEAN-led mechanisms.

ASEAN leaders also expressed their desire to resume the Special ASEAN-U.S. Summit on the 15th anniversary between the two parties. This event, which was originally scheduled for March 13, was postponed due to concerns over Covid-19.

The association stated it would continue to prevent and mitigate the impact of drought in the region and looks forward to the formulation of the ASEAN Declaration on Building Resilience to Drought and its subsequent Regional Action Plan.

Last year, a number of downstream Mekong countries including Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia faced severe drought, one of the main causes of which is the record low water level of Mekong River.

The 36th ASEAN Summit, with Vietnam as chair, took place online on Friday due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

ASEAN has 10 members - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

It has eight strategic partners, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S.

Vietnam is scheduled to chair the 37th ASEAN Summit by the end of this year.

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