By Liu Zhen
The war of words between Singapore’s ambassador to Beijing and the editor-in-chief of a nationalistic Chinese tabloid over a report about the city state’s role in the South China Sea dispute shows no sign of abating.
The Singaporean ambassador, Stanley Loh, issued a second open letter on Wednesday, questioning the credibility of the Global Times newspaper report – saying that it did not have any reporter present at the international meeting at the centre of the controversy.
“Global Times did not attend the meetings and had to rely on information from unnamed sources”, Loh said in his letter, appended in full at the bottom of this article.
At issue is the report, published last Wednesday, which said Singapore wanted to include the Philippines’ position on an international arbitration ruling on claims to the South China Sea in the final document of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit held in Venezuela on September 18.
Loh issued his first open letter rejecting the tabloid’s report on Tuesday.
Hours later, the tabloid’s editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, defended the report, pointing out that Loh “probably did not attend or witness” the NAM summit.
The Chinese foreign ministry later also joined in, blaming an unspecified “individual nation” for stirring up tensions over the South China Sea dispute by insisting on including South China Sea issues in the final document of the NAM summit.
Loh said Singapore was a member of NAM and had participated in all the proceedings at the summit, so his account “can be verified by the public record of the meeting”, while the Global Times did not attend the meetings and had to rely on information from unnamed sources.
Loh’s latest letter to Hu was also sent to other media organisations, including theSouth China Morning Post.
Loh referred to Hu’s criticism of Singapore’s position “against” China on the South China Sea disputes, saying that it was “not relevant”.
He said: “Our positions are not identical, but neither are we opposed. So we need to understand each other’s position, accept differences, and work towards enlarging shared interests with one another.”
Loh again requested that the newspaper, owned by the Communist Party mouthpiece,People’s Daily publish his letter in full “in the interest of honesty, professionalism, objectivity and transparency”, but said the newspaper had not done so.
Loh reiterated that the tabloid’s September 21 report was inaccurate.
In both his letters, Loh repeated his point that Singapore did not raise the South China Sea issue or the arbitration ruling at the summit.
Rather, it was a collective request by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to include paragraphs to reflect their consensus on the issue, Loh said.
In his response to Loh on Tuesday, Hu said the Global Times report had been based on information from a “serious and reliable” source, who had attended the meeting, and that it followed “solid and careful” reporting and therefore “represented the truth”.
Hu also said Loh, as a China-based ambassador, was “probably not able to attend … or witness” the meeting held in Venezuela.
“I think Singapore should feel ashamed when you tried to trip up China, your largest trading partner,” Hu said in his letter.
Singaporean ambassador Stanley Loh’s latest letter to Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, in full:
28 Sep 2016
Mr Hu Xijin
Dear Editor-in-Chief Hu,
I refer to your response to my letter of 26 Sep 2016.
The crux of the matter is that Global Times’ report dated 21 Sep 2016 did not accurately reflect the proceedings at the recent NAM Summit. Global Times did not attend the meetings and had to rely on information from unnamed sources. In contrast, Singapore is a member of NAM and had participated in all the proceedings at the Summit. Consequently, I have related the facts and this account can be verified by the public record of the meeting.
By the way, you misread my letter. The NAM Chair did not reject Singapore’s request. In fact, the NAM Chair improperly rejected ASEAN’s collective request to update the Southeast Asia paragraphs to reflect the consensus of all ten ASEAN Member States. That is why Laos as Chair of ASEAN wrote to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister to put on record ASEAN’s reservation to a paragraph in the Southeast Asia section of the NAM Final Document. You failed to mention this ASEAN Chair letter which I had enclosed in my earlier letter to you. I have appended it again for your attention.
The other points you had raised are not relevant to the issue of the veracity of Global Times’ report. Singapore has consistently adopted a clear and principled position. Our leaders have already addressed those issues on numerous previous occasions at meetings with your leaders. Our positions are not identical, but neither are we opposed. So we need to understand each other’s position, accept differences, and work towards enlarging shared interests with one another.
Once again, I request that Global Times publish my letter of 26 Sep 2016, including its Annex, in full, in the print version where your report was first published. This is so that your readers can be fully and accurately informed in the interest of honesty, professionalism, objectivity and transparency.
to the People’s Republic of China
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Peace Independence Democracy Unity Prosperity
18 September 2016
Isla Margarita, Venezuela
H.E. Delcy Rodriguez Gomez
Minister of Foreign Affairs
of the People’s Power for Foreign Affairs
of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
I would like to extend my friendly greeting to Your Excellency, and on behalf of 10 ASEAN member States attending the XVII NAM Ministerial Meeting, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippine, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam, have the honour to reiterate that the question of South China Sea is a matter of vital interest for peace stability, security and cooperation in South East Asia. From the very beginning, ASEAN with a high respect to Venezuela Chair of XVII NAM Summit and with the strong aspiration to contribute to the success of this XVII NAM Summit, has been requesting extensive discussion and consultation with interested NAM members to reach an agreement on the issue.
Unfortunately our cooperative spirit and our constructive efforts have not been reciprocated. ASEAN, with a very deep regret and with the high respect to the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as the Chair of the XVII NAM Summit and to all distinguished NAM members, has to reiterate that ASEAN is not in a position to accept the paragraph relating to the South China Sea numbered 449 as reflected in the draft NAM Final Outcome Document received by member countries in the morning of 18 September 2016, as it does not reflect the current developments in the region. We would like to request the NAM Chair to put on record our reservation and incorporate in the NAM Final Outcome Document our reservation in the form of an Annex as follows:
“The Heads of State or Government reiterated the call to solve all sovereignty and territorial disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful means, without resorting to force and/or the threat to use force, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Charter of the United Nations. In this context, they urged all parties to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entiretyto build, maintain and enhance mutual trust and confidence, to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities, and to work expeditiously for the early adoption of an effective Code of Conduct, which would help to promote international peace and stability in the region, with a view to creating a positive climate for the eventual resolution of all contentious issues, as mentioned in paragraph 2 of the Joint Commmunique of the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos dated 24 July 2016. They expressed their hope that all parties concerned would refrain from any actions that may undermine peace, stability, trust and confidence in the region.
The Heads of State or Government shared serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments in the South China Sea and took note of the concerns expressed by some ministers/leaders on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area, including the increased presence of military assets and the possibility of further militarization of outposts in the South China Sea, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region. They emphasized the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.
They reaffirmed the importance of and their shared commitment to maintaining peace, security, stability, the freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea, as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law. To this end, they welcomed the adoption of the Guidelines for the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in July 2011 in Bali and the Joint Statement of the 15th ASEAN-China Summit on 10th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in November 2012 in Phnom Penh.
The Heads of State or Government also welcomed the Joint Statement by the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN Member States and China on the Full and Effective Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea on 25 July 2016 in Vientiane. They further welcomed the positive contribution of the consultations at ASEAN-China dialogues, and the regular exchange of views at relevant ASEAN-led fora, and encouraged their continuance. The Heads of State or Government welcomed the progress made on some of the Early Harvest Measures, which includes adopting a 24-hour MFA-to-MFA hotline for maritime emergencies. They noted the ASEAN-China 25th Anniversary Commemorative Summit on 7 September 2016 in Vientiane, the 17th Joint Working Group on the implementation of the DOC on 8 June 2016 and the 12th Senior Official’s Meeting on the implementation of the DOC on 9 June2016 in Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam.”
Therefore, ASEAN expresses its reservation on paragraph 449 of the XVII NAM Final Outcome Document, and with your permission, kindly requests that its reservation and this letter be put on record and included as annex of the Final Outcome Document.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
SOM and Ministerial Leader of
the Lao delegation
Singaporean ambassador Stanley Loh’s first letter to Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin in response to the tabloid’s September 21 article:
Mr Hu Xijin
Dear Editor-in-Chief Hu,
1 The Global Times (Chinese) article dated 21 September 2016 regarding the 17th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit attributed actions and words to Singapore which are false and unfounded.
2 Firstly, the proposal to update the Southeast Asia paragraphs in the NAM Final Document was not done at the last minute nor by any single ASEAN country. There was a common and united ASEAN position. It was a consensus position of all ten ASEAN members, based on agreed language from the Joint Communique of the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting. As the current ASEAN Chair, Laos conveyed the group’s common position through a formal letter to the former-NAM Chair Iran in July 2016. Subsequently, Iran circulated ASEAN’s updates to all NAM Members on 29 July 2016.
3 Secondly, the NAM Chair refused ASEAN’s request to abide by the established practice in NAM for regional groupings to update the paragraphs of their respective regions in the NAM Final Document, without interference from non-regional NAM countries or external parties. If this important principle is not respected, any non-regional NAM member or external element could in future impose their views on any regional issue. This is not in the interests of the NAM and its members. The paragraphs on Southeast Asia, including those referring to the South China Sea, have been part of the NAM Final Document since 1992, and regularly updated based on the common position of the ASEAN countries.
4 Thirdly, contrary to the claim fabricated by the Global Times, the Singapore delegation did not raise the South China Sea or the tribunal ruling at the NAM Summit. Singapore adopted a principled position throughout and intervened to support the common position of ASEAN and defend NAM principles and established practices. Singapore believes that it is detrimental to the unity, impartiality and future of the NAM to allow NAM principles to be undermined.
5 The following additional facts clearly refute the allegations in the article:
i. Only a very small number of NAM Members outside Southeast Asia raised objections to ASEAN’s updates at the NAM Senior Officials’ Meeting at Margarita Island. However, substantive discussions were regrettably blocked.
ii. As Chairman of ASEAN, Laos protested on behalf of all ten ASEAN countries to the NAM Chair on its improper decision to reject ASEAN’s updates. Several other countries also objected to the breach of this well-established NAM principle.
iii. At the end of the 17th NAM Summit, Laos as Chair of ASEAN wrote to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister to put on record ASEAN’s collective reservation to a paragraph in the Southeast Asia section of the NAM Final Document that was not updated. The ASEAN Chair further requested that ASEAN’s proposed language be annexed to the NAM Final Document. A copy of the letter from Laos as Chair of ASEAN is attached.
6 We are disappointed that an established newspaper published this irresponsible report replete with fabrications and unfounded allegations with no regard for the facts. I request that in the interest of professionalism, objectivity and transparency, Global Times publishes this letter in full in Chinese and English, so that your readers may be accurately informed, and the close friendship between our two countries will not be inadvertently affected.
to the People’s Republic of China