South China Sea: U.S. Rejects China’s Goal To Avoid Discussion at ASEAN — Obama says arbitration court ruling is “binding” and Beijing must abide by the international tribunal ruling

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Li Keqiang said China wanted to work with other countries to “dispel interference” in the contested maritime zone

U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asean summit in Vientiane on Thursday. Photograph by Ye Aung Thu for AFP

The Associated Press

VIENTIANE, Laos
Sep 8, 2016, 2:17 AM ET

President Barack Obama put the long-simmering dispute in the South China Sea front and center on the agenda at a regional summit Thursday as it became clear that most of the other leaders gathered in the Laotian capital were going to let China off with a mild rebuke over its territorial expansion in the resource-rich waters.

“We will continue to work to ensure that disputes are resolved peacefully including in the South China Sea,” Obama said in his opening remarks at a meeting with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

He said an international arbitration ruling on July 12 against China was “binding” and “helped to clarify maritime rights in the region.”

ASEAN will hold a separate summit later Thursday with other world powers, including China and the U.S. The summit is expected to let China off with a muted reprimand over its expansionist activities in South China Sea, according to a draft of their joint statement to be released Thursday.

The U.S. has repeatedly expressed concern over Beijing’s actions in the resource-rich sea. Obama brought that up again.

Referring to the arbitration panel’s ruling that invalidated China’s claims, Obama said: “I realize this raises tensions but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and regional stability.”

The draft of the summit statement said that ASEAN and its partners “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability and security and freedom of navigation in and over-flight in the South China Sea.”

“Several Leaders remained seriously concerned over recent developments in the South China Sea … We stressed the importance for the parties concerned to resolve their disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international laws,” it said.

China has turned shoals and coral reefs into seven man-made islands and built airstrips capable of handling military aircraft on three of them. ASEAN leaders at their earlier summit on Tuesday expressed concern over China’s island-building.

A joint statement after the Tuesday summit said it “took note of the concerns expressed by some leaders on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”

The use of the phrase “some leaders” in the two statements underscores the fundamental problem ASEAN and the wider East Asia Summit has in dealing with China — not all its members are willing to scold Beijing. Cambodia, for example, remains in China’s camp, as does Laos to a large extent, preventing any robust statement from the consensus-bound ASEAN group.

U.S. officials, however, said that there were other critical elements in the ASEAN statement that China failed to block, and which amounted to a strong diplomatic rebuke of Beijing.

China pulled out all the stops to block any reference to the words “recent activities,” ”serious concern,” ”reclamation,” ”militarization,” ”loss of trust” and “need to respect legal processes,” but failed as all these phrases made it into the statement, said a senior U.S. administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss diplomatic discussions.

Though Beijing recently announced a $600 million aid package to ally Cambodia, China was unable to get it to block the statement, said the official. Cambodia did however block an explicit mention of the tribunal’s ruling, which the Philippines was willing to concede, the official said.

The issue of ownership of territories in the South China Sea has come to dominate ASEAN summits in recent years. China claims virtually the entire sea as its own, citing historical reasons. That has pitted it against the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, all members of ASEAN, which have overlapping claims.

The U.S. military has also expressed concern over the possibility that China might turn Scarborough into another island, something that would give Beijing’s forces greater control over a swath of the South China Sea used as a passageway to the Taiwan Strait.

———

Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

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China Tries To Stop Discussion of South China Sea at ASEAN Meeting

Obama hits back by telling Asian leaders China must abide by the international tribunal ruling that its claims to the area have no legal basis

China has sent a coded warning to the United States to stay out of the South China Sea dispute after Beijing was again accused of building permanent structures on islands in the area.

Speaking after talks with rival countries at a regional summit in Laos, premier Li Keqiang said China wanted to work with other countries to “dispel interference” in the contested maritime zone.

But US president Barack Obama responded by warning that Beijing must abide by an international tribunal ruling that China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea had no legal basis.

The landmark arbitration ruling in July, which is binding, helped clarify maritime rights in the region,” Obama told a summit of Asian leaders in Laos on Thursday. Beijing has vowed to ignore the verdict.

“I recognise this raises tensions,” Obama said referring to the ruling “but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and stability.”

The Philippines said earlier on Wednesday it was “gravely concerned” that Chinese boats were preparing to build structures at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, upsetting the diplomatic peace at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Vientiane.

China claims much of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims.

Officials said talks between regional leaders and Li on Wednesday went smoothly, but there was no reference to a July court ruling in The Hague that declared some of China’s artificial islands illegal and invalidated its claims to almost the entire waterway.

In a statement released later on Wednesday by China’s foreign ministry about the meeting, Li was paraphrased as saying China was willing to work with Asean countries in “dispelling interference … and properly handling the South China Sea issue”.

He did not elaborate, but such wording is typically used by Chinese leaders to refer to not allowing countries from outside the region with no direct involvement in the dispute, like the United States, from getting involved.

With joint efforts from China and Asean members, the situation in the South China Sea was moving in a positive direction, Li added.

Peace and stability in the area was directly related to prosperity and development of neighbouring countries, he said.

“Countries in the region are the biggest beneficiaries of peace in the South China Sea. History and facts have repeatedly showed that the South China Sea can only be peaceful and stable so long as the regional countries themselves get hold of the key to fixing the problems,” Lie said.

Increasingly assertive action by China’s coast guard ships in the South China Sea risks destabilising the region, according to the authors of new research tracking maritime law enforcement incidents across the vital trade route.

Hours before the meeting, however, the Philippines’ defence ministry released photographs and a map showing what it said was an increased number of Chinese vessels near Scarborough Shoal, which China seized after a standoff in 2012.

Li made no direct mention of Scarborough Shoal in the comments provided by the foreign ministry.

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Reuters

(L to R) Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chano-cha, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, U.S President Barack Obama, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Philippines Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak pose for photo during ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Manuel Mogato | VIENTIANE

Asian leaders played down tensions over the South China Sea in a carefully worded summit statement on Thursday, but even before it was issued Beijing voiced frustration with countries outside the region “interfering” in tussles over the strategic waterway.

The heads of 10 Southeast Asian nations, as well as U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang among six other leaders, “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation in and over-flight in the South China Sea”.

But the draft of a statement to be issued in Vientiane, Laos, tiptoed around the regional strains caused by competing claims to areas of the strategically important sea.

“Several leaders remained seriously concerned over recent developments in the South China Sea,” said the draft.

The statement, seen by Reuters, made no reference to a July ruling by a court in The Hague that declared illegal some of China’s artificial islands in the sea and invalidated its claims to almost the entire waterway.

Obama said on Thursday the ruling had helped clarify maritime rights. “I recognize this raises tensions but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions,” he said at a summit meeting.

Officials said that talks on Wednesday between leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China’s Li had gone smoothly.

But in a statement later from China’s Foreign Ministry, Li was paraphrased as saying China was willing to work with Southeast Asian countries in “dispelling interference … and properly handling the South China Sea issue”.

He did not elaborate, but such wording is typically used by Chinese leaders to refer to not allowing countries from outside the region with no direct involvement in the dispute, like the United States, from getting involved.

China claims much of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Taiwan and four ASEAN members – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – also have claims, making it a hot spot of regional tension.

The other ASEAN nations are Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand. Leaders from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States also attended the summit.

China has over the past year alarmed other claimants, and outside powers such as the United States and Japan, by re-claiming land on several disputed reefs through dredging, and building air fields and port facilities.

Shattering an illusion of cordiality at the summit in Laos on Wednesday, U.S. ally the Philippines released photographs and a map showing what it said was an increased number of Chinese vessels near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which China seized after a standoff in 2012.

Its defense ministry expressed “grave concern” that Chinese boats were preparing to build structures at the shoal.

CLEARED THE AIR

The Philippines’ move came after a dispute with the United States, its former colonial power. Ties turned frosty when new President Rodrigo Duterte insulted U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on Monday, prompting the cancellation of a meeting between them.

The two leaders made some steps toward clearing the air late on Wednesday, however, chatting briefly, and exchanging pleasantries as they prepared to take their seats at a leaders’ dinner.

The United States has been a staunch ally of the Philippines and China has repeatedly blamed Washington for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea.

Washington says it has no position on the territorial disputes but wants to ensure freedom of navigation. To press that point, it has conducted patrols near Chinese-held islands.

Although the Scarborough Shoal is merely a few rocks poking above the sea, it is important to the Philippines because of the fish stocks in the area. Manila says China’s blockade of the shoal is a violation of international law.

The dispute has become more significant since the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in July that no country had sovereign rights over activity at Scarborough Shoal. China has refused to recognize the ruling by the court in The Hague.

Li made no direct mention of Scarborough Shoal in the comments provided by the foreign ministry, but Beijing said on Wednesday there had been no new activity there and “some people” were spreading information that was “hyping the situation”.

China’s embassy in Manila said there has been no dredging or building at the shoal and China has maintained a coastguard presence there for law enforcement patrols.

A statement by ASEAN on Wednesday listed eight points related to the South China Sea, but made no mention of the arbitration ruling.

The bloc traditionally shies away from taking a position on thorny diplomatic issues, especially where China is concerned, because of its influence in the region and the need to balance ties with the United States.

“Both China and the United States are among the most important partners of ASEAN, and ASEAN does not want to have to choose between those partners,” the secretary general of the bloc, Le Luong Minh, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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One Response to “South China Sea: U.S. Rejects China’s Goal To Avoid Discussion at ASEAN — Obama says arbitration court ruling is “binding” and Beijing must abide by the international tribunal ruling”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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