Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

China reiterated it would not accept any interference in the South China Sea — U.S. seems happy with that — International law will apparently be ignored

July 25, 2016

Reuters

Mon Jul 25, 2016 6:43am EDT

The U.S. and Chinese militaries have reduced the risk of encounters between them having “unintended consequences”, a top U.S. official said on Monday, while China reiterated it would not accept interference in the South China Sea.

There have been a series of incidents in recent years, most in the disputed South China Sea, where the United States has accused Chinese military ships and aircraft of coming dangerously close to U.S. forces.

Visiting U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said confidence-building measures had reduced risks and the United States valued progress in improving military-to-military ties.

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice (L) shakes hands with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi as she arrives for a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China July 25, 2016.
REUTERS/MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/POOL

“Our military leaders communicate more frequently and more directly than ever before in the past,” Rice said in a meeting with a vice chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, Fan Changlong.

“While our forces operate in closer proximity to each other, the risk of unintended consequences has gone down thanks to the confidence-building measures that our two sides have put in place.”

The United States and China have increasingly been at odds over China’s claims to most of the South China Sea, a waterway through which $5 trillion of trade moves annually, where the United States has sought to assert its right to freedom of navigation.

China has stepped up its rhetoric in defense of its claims since an international court ruled this month that China did not have historic rights to the waters, raising concern that China would assert its position more forcefully.

There have been two close contacts between the two militaries since last month alone, with the U.S. accusing China of shadowing an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea and of unsafely intercepting a spy plane in the East China Sea, where China has competing territorial claims with Japan.

China said it was conducting routine operations in line with laws and rules.

Fan also emphasized the need to deepen military-to-military relations with the United States to “avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation”.

But he also dismissed any notion that China would bow to pressure when it came to protecting its national sovereignty in the South China Sea.

“The Chinese people will not yield to outside pressure,” he said, the defense ministry said in a statement after the meeting.

Fan said relations between their militaries faced “obstacles and challenges”, which, if not properly handled, would “disturb and undermine” progress.

He said the deployment of an anti-missile system in South Korea would impact mutual trust. The United States is deploying the system in South Korea to protect it from North Korea.

(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Ben Blanchard, Robert Birsel)

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, center, and Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., prepare for a photo, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, Monday, July 25, 2016. AP/Sakchai Lalit
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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, talks to Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, center, and Philippine Foreign Secreatary Perfecto Yasay, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) –China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, Monday, July 25, 2016. A highly anticipated meeting between Southeast Asian foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi has begun in what is expected to be tense discussions on China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit) (The Associated Press)

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ASEAN skips mention of South China Sea ruling in statement — Rejoicing in China

July 25, 2016
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, center, and Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., prepare for a photo, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, Monday, July 25, 2016. AP/Sakchai Lalit

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Monday issued a joint communique without any mention of the recent ruling on Philippines’s claims against China.

The statement was issued following a deadlock among Southeast Asian officials at the meeting in Vientiane, Laos who tried to reach a consensus to counter China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea.

The communique contained seven points under the subtopic on the South China Sea but omitted any mention of the July 12 arbitral tribunal’s decision delivering a victory to the Philippines.

Without any direct mention of China, which built islands over disputed features, the ASEAN ministers criticized land reclamation that heightens tension in the waterway.

“We remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some Ministers 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 ASEAN communique read.

The ministers also made a reference to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, under which the arbitral tribunal was convened in 2013 to hear the case of the Philippines last year, urging parties to “pursue peaceful resolution of disputes.”

A separate statement was issued reaffirming commitments to the non-binding Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to which members of the ASEAN and China are signatories. Besides the Philippines and China, bloc members Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia are locked in a longstanding maritime spat over parts of the strategic route.

In the statement on the DOC, the ministers recalled the ASEAN statement issued in 2012 at the 15th ASEAN-China Summit urging rival claimants to resolve the disputes through peaceful means, “without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.”

Attempts to rebuke China within ASEAN were stymied by its ally Cambodia, and to some extent Laos. The statement is a victory for China, which has used every diplomatic muscle in its power to prevent criticism of its actions.

US-China meeting

United States National Security Adviser Susan Rice was in Beijing on Monday for talks with Chinese officials in the highest-level visit by a White House official since an international tribunal issued a ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.

The South China Sea and the ruling was not raised in opening remarks in front of reporters at Rice’s meeting with China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

On Monday, Rice told Yang that the U.S. and China have been cooperating more closely on global issues such as nuclear nonproliferation and the Ebola epidemic. She acknowledged that the sides also faced other “global issues and challenges.”

“To the extent that we are able to surface those challenges in candor and openness, I’m confident that we will be able to work on them as we have many others in the past,” Rice said.

Yang said that the sides had stable relations, but that there were still differences that had to be carefully managed. — with a report from the Associated Press

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, talks to Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, center, and Philippine Foreign Secreatary Perfecto Yasay, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) –China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, Monday, July 25, 2016. A highly anticipated meeting between Southeast Asian foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi has begun in what is expected to be tense discussions on China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit) (The Associated Press)

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Troops fear Obama rushing Mosul offensive to influence election

July 25, 2016

By 
The Washington Times – Sunday, July 24, 2016

Residents who fled towns and villages near Mosul during the fight between Iraqi Security Forces and Islamic State militants moved to a camp for displaced people outside Irbil. Some U.S. officers in Baghdad believe the Obama administration is rushing plans for a Mosul offensive so it takes place before the November presidential election. (Associated Press)

Some U.S. officers in Baghdad believe the Obama administration is rushing plans for a Mosul offensive so it takes place before the November presidential election, a retired general says.

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Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero said his contacts in Baghdad have relayed the concerns to him, fearing there is now an “artificial timeline” for what promises to be by far the toughest battle in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq.

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Iraqi Security Forces, which has made strides since the U.S.-led coalition began retraining its troops, may not be sufficiently prepared for a rushed operation. The troops face the monumental task of capturing a city of almost 2 million citizens and up to 10,000 Islamic State fighters and their booby traps.

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“There is tremendous concern that Washington is going to press for a Mosul operation to commence before the November election,” Mr. Barbero told The Washington Times. “The concern is, will the conditions be set on the ground by then, and I don’t think so.”

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Asked about the view that the White House is pushing an early offensive, Mr. Barbero answered, “Yeah. I’m hearing that from Baghdad.”

 

 

“If you look at the track record, that is not unbelievable,” he said. “It’s an artificial timeline, especially before the election.”

http://www.washingtontimes.com/multimedia/image/7_242016_mideast-iraq-islamic-sta-128201jpg/

 

China scores diplomatic victory, avoids criticism from ASEAN

July 25, 2016

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, talks to Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, center, and Philippine Foreign Secreatary Perfecto Yasay, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) –China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos, Monday, July 25, 2016. A highly anticipated meeting between Southeast Asian foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi has begun in what is expected to be tense discussions on China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit) (The Associated Press)

China scored a diplomatic victory Monday, avoiding criticism by Southeast Asia’s main grouping over its territorial expansion in the South China Sea even though some of the bloc’s members are victims of Beijing’s actions.

After hectic negotiations, the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations issued a watered-down rebuke that amounted to less than a slap on the wrist, and exposed the deep divisions in a regional bloc that prides itself on unity.

In a joint communique released after their talks, the foreign ministers of ASEAN said only that they “remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments” in the South China Sea. The statement did not mention China by name in referring to the developments.

Most significantly, it failed to mention a recent ruling by an international arbitration panel in a dispute between the Philippines and China that said Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea were illegal and that the Philippines was justifiably the aggrieved party. China has dismissed the ruling as bogus, saying the Hague-based tribunal has no authority to rule on what Beijing calls bilateral disputes. China wants direct negotiations with the Philippines instead.

China was able to push through its stance in ASEAN with the help of Cambodia, and to some extent Laos, both of which are close friends of Beijing. ASEAN’s guiding principle is to make all statements by consensus, so a veto by Cambodia would have prevented a more stinging rebuke.

“We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea,” the joint statement said.

“We further reaffirmed 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,” it said.

Such statements have previously been issued, notably after an ASEAN-U.S. summit in California in February, and have led to criticism that ASEAN is becoming a toothless organization.

“Certainly, Cambodia’s paralysis of ASEAN … hurts ASEAN’s unity, cohesion, relevance and reputation,” said Malcolm Cook, an analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, a Singapore think-tank. “It makes ASEAN peripheral, not central, on this issue.”

“For Laos and Cambodia, they clearly see relations with China as more important than their membership in ASEAN and are willing to damage ASEAN to aid their relations with China,” he said.

The South China Sea is dotted with reefs and rocky outcroppings that several governments claim, including China and the Philippines. The arbitration panel didn’t take a position on who owns the disputed territories. It did conclude that many of them are legally rocks, even if they’ve been built into islands, and therefore do not include the international rights to develop the surrounding waters. That and other findings invalidated much of what China has called its historic claims to the resource-rich sea.

In order to ease tensions, China, the Philippines and possibly other claimants must define what the ruling means for fishing, offshore oil and gas exploration, and military and other activities in the vast body of water that lies between the southern Chinese coast and the Philippine archipelago.

In recent days, China’s military has staged live-firing exercises in the area and said it would begin regular aerial patrols over the sea. It also has asserted that it will not be deterred from continuing construction of its man-made islands.

On Sunday, Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, reiterated his government’s position that it will only accept bilateral negotiations with the Philippines.

“Every country has the same position as China, that is that we should fully and effectively implement the regional Code of Conduct, and in that COC it clearly states the dispute should be resolved by peaceful, sit-down talks between the parties directly concerned,” he said.

He was scheduled to give a news conference later Monday after his talks with ASEAN ministers.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice In China to Discuss South China Sea

July 25, 2016
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U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, left, and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, right, shake hands as they pose for a photo at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Monday, July 25, 2016.

Associated Press

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice is in Beijing for talks with Chinese officials in the highest-level visit by a White House official since an international tribunal issued a ruling that invalidated China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea, a move that was set to fuel tensions.The tribunal’s July 12 ruling, which angered China, was not raised in opening remarks Monday in front of the media at Rice’s meeting on Monday with the country’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Rice said the U.S. and China have been cooperating more closely on global issues and that she’s confident that they could work through other challenges with “candor and openness.”

Yang said the sides had stable relations but that there are still differences that have to be carefully managed.

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on September 5, 2012. You have to assume China was reading her email at the time. They aren’t stupid, but she is.

Since this photo was taken, Clinton ran for President of the United States and Yang Jiechi was promoted, and China pretty much “owns” the South China Sea — a gigantic failure of U.S. diplomacy.  Many who deal frequently with China say Yang Jiechi  is the number 3 man in China after Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Yang Jiechi, a state councilor who deals with foreign policy, on Wednesday in Beijing, July 9, 2014. Credit Pool photo by Jim Bourg

Our friends in Asia say many diplomats call Yang Jiechi “Stonewall” because nobody ever gets anywhere with him.

Vietnam Says South China Sea is a ‘Test’ of ASEAN — If ASEAN Cannot Support International Law, ASEAN Is Worthless

July 25, 2016

AFP

© AFP | China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) shakes hands with Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh during the ASEAN-China meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN annual ministerial meeting and the Regional Security Forum, in Vientiane, on July 25, 2016

VIENTIANE (AFP) – Vietnam has warned that the inability of Southeast Asian nations to forge a unified front against Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea is a “test” of the regional bloc in the face of its greatest security challenge.

The unusually strong comments from a key claimant to the contested waters, comes as diplomats meet in Laos for the first summit since a UN-backed tribunal debunked Beijing’s legal claim to vast stretches of the strategically vital sea.

After talks stuttered on Sunday, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a late night statement warning that the South China Sea had become “a test case for the unity and the central role of ASEAN”.

“Many ministers stressed that in this context, ASEAN should promote solidarity, unity and a central role,” the statement added.

Diplomats met for a new round of crunch talks called for by Laos on Monday morning.

As they came to a close, Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi expressed optimism that a statement would be agreed, though diplomats previously told AFP it would likely be “watered down”.

Staunch Beijing ally Cambodia has been accused of scuppering efforts by the bloc to issue a joint statement calling on Beijing to adhere to the UN tribunal’s decision.

Four ASEAN members — Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — have competing claims with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea.

Most members of the bloc want to keep pressure on China over its campaign of island building in the strategic waters.

But ASEAN operates on a tradition of consensus diplomacy, meaning a single nation can have an effective veto power if it disagrees with the others.

China has been accused of teasing poorer members like Laos and Cambodia into fracturing regional unity with promises of aid and trade.

Critics have long derided ASEAN for lacking real diplomatic clout.

A failure to respond to the tribunal ruling or the region’s key security issue will do little to counter those claims.

The ongoing impasse in Vientiane has led to fears of a repeat of a 2012 summit in Cambodia where the bloc failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in its history because of disagreements over the South China Sea.

Chinese pressure was blamed last month for a startling show of discord by the bloc, when countries swiftly disowned a joint statement released by Malaysia after an ASEAN-China meeting.

That statement had expressed alarm over Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea. Cambodia and Laos were later fingered as being behind moves to block the joint statement.

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South China Sea: ASEAN Regional Forum Begins in Laos — Discussions of China in the South China Sea Anticipated

July 25, 2016

 By Vijay Joshi and Daniel Malloy (philstar.com) | Updated July 25, 2016 — 12:53 p.m.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, arrives at Wattay Airport for the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Vientiane, Laos, Sunday, July 24, 2016. AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit
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VIENTIANE, Laos — Southeast Asia’s main grouping made a last-ditch attempt to reach a consensus on countering China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea, but their deadlock appeared far from being resolved as minutes ticked by before a critical meeting with the Chinese foreign minister Monday.
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The foreign ministers of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held three rounds of talks on Sunday, and an emergency post-breakfast session on Monday ahead of a scheduled meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
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The deadlock is over whether ASEAN, in their traditional joint statement, should chastise China for claiming the entire South China Sea, which infringes on territorial claims of four member nations — the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
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Because ASEAN works by consensus, it cannot rebuke China unless all 10 members agree. In complete disagreement is Cambodia, a close China ally, and even Laos although its opposition is somewhat muted because of its role as the host of the series of regional meetings this week. Thailand also doesn’t appear too keen to criticize China.
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At one point it appeared that the ASEAN ministers will simply have to abandon the idea of issuing a joint statement.
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Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai told reporters after the emergency meeting that South China Sea was not discussed at all. He, however, said ASEAN will issue the joint statement after all, but refused to say if the communique will contain a reference to South China Sea and China.
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“You will read it,” he said cryptically.
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Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi also said: “It’s very positive … We are very much on track” to release the communique. She also would not say if the communique would refer to the South China Sea, or the decision of an international tribunal, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, earlier this month that said China’s expansive claims in the region are illegal.
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The stalemate puts pressure on ASEAN’s cherished unity and also gives an upper hand to China, which has used every diplomatic means at its disposal to stave off wider international criticism over moves it’s made in the South China Sea that have impacted the four Southeast Asian countries.
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“Certainly, Cambodia’s paralysis of ASEAN … hurts ASEAN’s unity, cohesion, relevance and reputation,” said Malcolm Cook, an analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, a Singapore think-tank. “It makes ASEAN peripheral, not central, on this issue.”
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“For Laos and Cambodia, they clearly see relations with China as more important than their membership in ASEAN and are willing to damage ASEAN to aid their relations with China,” he said.
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The South China Sea is dotted with reefs and rocky outcroppings that several governments claim, including China and the Philippines. The arbitration panel didn’t take a position on who owns the disputed territories. It did conclude that many of them are legally rocks, even if they’ve been built into islands, and therefore do not include the international rights to develop the surrounding waters. That and other findings invalidated much of what China has called its historic claims to the resource-rich sea.
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In order to ease tensions, China, the Philippines and possibly other claimants must define what the ruling means for fishing, offshore oil and gas exploration, and military and other activities in the vast body of water that lies between the southern Chinese coast and the Philippine archipelago.
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China has rejected the ruling as bogus, and called for bilateral negotiations with the Philippines. In recent days, its military has staged live-firing exercises in the area and said it would begin regular aerial patrols over the sea. It also has asserted that it will not be deterred from continuing construction of its man-made islands.
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On Sunday, Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, reiterated his government’s position that it will only accept bilateral negotiations.
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“Every country has the same position as China, that is that we should fully and effectively implement the regional Code of Conduct, and in that COC it clearly states the dispute should be resolved by peaceful, sit-down talks between the parties directly concerned,” he said.
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He is scheduled to give a news conference later Monday after his talks with ASEAN ministers.
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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.
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South China Sea: ASEAN foreign Ministers meet with China’s Wang Yi

July 25, 2016

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, arrives at Wattay Airport for the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Vientiane, Laos, Sunday, July 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The Associated Press

VIENTIANE, Laos — The Latest on the meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (all times local):

12:45 p.m.

Despite Cambodia’s efforts to keep the feuds over the South China Sea off the agenda for the ASEAN meetings, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. praised a recent international arbitration decision on the disputes, but stopped short of calling for Chinese compliance with the landmark ruling.

“The decision has provided a solid legal foundation on which a rules-based approach for resolving disputes in the South China Sea can be built,” Yasay said he told his ASEAN counterparts, adding the ruling__ that says China’s claim over the entire South China Sea, is illegal __ is “final and binding to all parties concerned, is a clearly established fact” and that it has “significant implications for the entire region, not just the coastal states bordering the South China Sea.”

An ASEAN statement, Yasay said, backing the legal and diplomatic processes being pursued by the Philippines will not only reflect ASEAN respect for a rules-based order, but also reaffirm ASEAN’s “centrality and solidarity in the regional security architecture.”

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10:30 a.m.

A highly anticipated meeting between Southeast Asian foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi has begun in what is expected to be tense discussions on China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea.

Wang Yi arrived at the Lao Convention Center on the outskirts of Vientiane with a large delegation before being joined by the ministers and officials from the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The grouping is divided on whether to rebuke China for its territorial ambitions, which infringes on areas claimed by four AESAN member nations. Most of them want to but Cambodia, a key Beijing ally, and Laos, do not want to.

The massive media contingent gathered here was allowed to go into the meeting room before for photographs and video opportunity that took nearly 30 minutes before the meeting could start.

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10:15 a.m.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has skipped key meetings of the Association of Southeast Nations this week in the Laotian capital with no explanation other than “urgent matters’ at home.

Anifah Aman was represented by his ministry’s secretary-general, Othman Hashim, in talks Sunday and early Monday.

A ministry, who did not want to be identified, said Anifah “at the moment is not attending as he has urgent matters to attend to.” Another Malaysian official in Vientiane said Anifah is dealing with “pressing matters at home,” and that Othman will lead the Malaysian delegation.

Anifah’s absence is striking because Malaysia is one of the claimants in the dispute with China in the South China Sea, which has dominated talks at this year’s ASEAN foreign minister’s talks.

Anifah’s name was in the official list of attendees released by host Laos, and the Malaysian government issued a statement on Friday saying Anifah will lead the Malaysian delegation in the series of meetings in Laos from Saturday to Tuesday. This indicated that his absence was a last-minute development.

It was not clear if it had anything to do with a growing scandal at home involving Prime Minister Najib Razak and a state investment fund from which $3.5 billion was stolen, allegedly with collusion of people close to Najib.

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9:30 a.m.

Thailand’s foreign minister says he and his counterparts from nine other Southeast Asian countries did not discuss the contentious issue of China’s expansionist moves in the South China Sea at an emergency meeting they had called to resolve a deadlock on the issue.

Don Pramudwinai says the ministers, however, decided to issue a joint communique, which had been held up because of disunity among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Speaking to reporters Monday after the emergency meeting, Don refused to say if the communique will contain a reference to South China Sea and China’s disputes with four ASEAN members.

“You will read it,” he said.

ASEAN has wanted to chastise China in its joint communique but has been unable to because of Cambodia, a close China ally. ASEAN can only issue statements if there is a consensus among all its members

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said cryptically: “It’s very positive … We are very much on track” to release the communique. She also would not say if the communique would refer to the South China Sea, or the decision of an international tribunal earlier this month that said China’s expansive claims in the region are illegal.

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9 a.m.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has skipped key meetings of the Association of Southeast Nations this week in the Laotian capital, and the government has given no explanation.

Anifah Aman was represented by his ministry’s secretary-general, Othman Hashim, in talks Sunday and early Monday.

His absence is striking because Malaysia is one of the claimants in the dispute with China in the South China Sea, which has dominated talks at this year’s ASEAN foreign minister’s talks.

A Laotian official told The Associated Press that Anifah “will not attend the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting this year, probably because of a tight schedule.” The Malaysian delegation will be led by Othman, he says.

Anifah’s name was in the official list of attendees released by host Laos, and the Malaysian government issued a statement on Friday saying Anifah will lead the Malaysian delegation in the series of meetings in Laos from Saturday to Tuesday.

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8 a.m.

Foreign ministers of Southeast Asian countries began arriving at a convention center for an unscheduled last-ditch attempt to hammer a consensus on how to deal with China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea.

The ministers of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations met over three sessions on Sunday without result, thanks to Cambodia’s intransigence over allowing the grouping to chastise China. They decided to meet again on Monday morning ahead of their scheduled meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

China’s disputes with four ASEAN countries — the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei — has become a major diplomatic and potential security problem for the region. China has rejected a recent international tribunal verdict that says its claim over the entire South China Sea, which it asserts on historical grounds, is illegal.

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South China Sea: Cambodia Blocks ASEAN From Making Progress with China

July 24, 2016

Reuters, July 24, 2016 — 7:27 a.m. E.D.T.

VIENTIANE — Southeast Asian nations failed to find common ground on maritime disputes in the South China Sea on Sunday after Cambodia stuck to its demand the group make no reference to an international court ruling against Beijing in a statement, diplomats said.

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met for the first time since the U.N.-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague handed an emphatic legal victory to the Philippines in the maritime dispute earlier this month.

The ruling denied China’s sweeping claims in the strategic seaway, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes each year.

China claims most of the sea, but ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have rival claims. Beijing says the ruling has no bearing on its rights in the sea, and described the case as a farce.

The Philippines and Vietnam both wanted the communique issued by ASEAN foreign ministers to refer to the ruling and the need to respect international law, ASEAN diplomats said on Sunday. Their foreign ministers both discussed the ruling in the closed-door meeting with ASEAN counterparts in Laos on Sunday, sources said.

But in the run up to the meeting, China’s closest ASEAN ally Cambodia has put up opposition to mentioning the ruling, throwing the group into disarray. Cambodia supports China’s opposition to an ASEAN stand on the South China Sea, and Beijing’s preference for dealing with the disputed claims on a bilateral basis.

FIRST DEADLOCK SINCE 2012

Cambodia’s foreign minister Prak Sokhon declined to comment on his country’s position on Sunday.

Despite a late night meeting of foreign ministers called to thrash out the issue late on Saturday, the region’s top diplomats were unable to find a compromise.

ASEAN is now facing the prospect of being unable to issue a statement after a meeting for only the second time in its 49-year history. The first time, in 2012, was also due to Cambodia’s resistance to language around the South China Sea.

“We have been here before and I hope they can solve it,” said one official from the ASEAN Secretariat in Indonesia. “It is the same story again, a repeat of the meeting in 2012.”

The group has given itself until Tuesday to come to an agreement and issue a statement, said one ASEAN diplomat. Over the next two days, ASEAN members will meet with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Wang, who started bilateral meetings with ASEAN members on Sunday, declined to talk to reporters on arrival in Vientiane.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumiko Kishida will also be in Laos for the ASEAN regional forum meeting. It is unclear if he will meet Wang, but China reacted angrily to Kishida saying he would discuss the sea if they do meet.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, in a statement posted on the ministry’s website, said the sea is not Japan’s concern.

“We urge Japan not to hype up and meddle in the South China Sea issue,” he said. “Japan is not a concerned party in the South China Sea, and because of its disgraceful history is in no place to make irresponsible comments about China.”

The United States, allied to the Philippines and cultivating closer relations with Vietnam, has called on China to respect the court’s ruling.

It has criticized China’s building of artificial islands and facilities in the sea and has sailed warships close to the disputed territory to assert freedom of navigation rights.

But Kerry will urge ASEAN nations to explore diplomatic ways to ease tension over Asia’s biggest potential military flashpoint, a senior U.S. official said ahead of his trip.

Chinese state media called for “damage control” at the meetings. A commentary published by the official Xinhua news agency on Sunday said the court ruling was a “blow to peace and stability in the region…. and only serves to increase the likelihood of confrontation and turbulence.”

Barack Obama is set in September to become the first U.S. president to visit Laos, attending an annual summit hosted by the country that holds the ASEAN chairmanship.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina; editing by Peter Graff)

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Asean Looks for Wiggle Room to Skirt South China Sea Impasse — The hand of China’s manipulation is more clearly seen

July 24, 2016

Some Southeast Asian nations considering changes to bloc rules that require consensus, so as to allow majority decisions

Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith talks with Asean foreign ministers in Vientiane, Laos, on Sunday July 24, 2016.
Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith talks with Asean foreign ministers in Vientiane, Laos, on Sunday July 24, 2016. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
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VIENTIANE, Laos—Diplomats are weighing changing rules at the core of decision making in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, frustrated by internal gridlock and division in the face of Chinese pressure over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Foreign ministers of the 10-member bloc are gathered in the Laotian capital for their most important series of meetings since the Philippines received a legal victory over China on July 12, when a United Nations-backed arbitration panel concluded that China’s claims to nearly all of the sea had no legal basis.

The ruling enraged Beijing, which has steadily built up a military presence in recent years and constructed artificial islands in contested areas. China has rejected the court’s finding and has pressured Southeast Asian nations that depend heavily on China for trade and investment to stop Asean as a diplomatic bloc from recognizing it. Asean makes decisions by consensus.

 
ASEAN Foreign Ministers, July 24, 2016

Five Asean members—Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Indonesia—claim territorial or usage rights in the strategic waters, home to rich fisheries and oil-and-gas reserves that see the passage of $5 trillion in trade each year.

Southeast Asian diplomats said this weekend that they’re increasingly offended by what they describe as China’s manipulation of the bloc. Close Beijing ally Cambodia has blocked group statements concerning the South China Sea.

The diplomats said most of the grouping, led by the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, the region’s largest economy, agree with declaring support for the tribunal ruling. But Cambodia has been blocking a joint position, effectively wielding a veto in line with China’s wishes. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said last month that the dispute was a bilateral issue, and not one for Asean collectively.

The frustration is leading to discussion of hitherto taboo ideas about altering Asean’s rules to allow a break from required consensus and enable the creation of smaller coalitions that would allow an Asean majority to move forward on contentious issues, diplomats said.

One way would be to adapt a method from the way Asean formulates economic initiatives, where the grouping can allow some members to defer on agreements. Asean struck a deal years ago, for example, to implement zero tariffs but gave four least-developed members extra time to comply.

“If Asean is to survive, then Asean-X has to apply to the security realm as it does in trade,” said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, referring to the system of non-consensus decisions. “Asean can no longer afford to be held hostage by its more pliable and most-recent members.”

However, the main challenge, experts say, is that a consensus vote would likely be required to make such changes to the rules, and China’s allies could simply block it.

Frustration was on hand late Saturday, when Indonesia convened a side meeting. The aim was to reach consensus on a set of guiding principles that would build momentum and carry the group through a round of increasingly larger annual meetings in coming days, including with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of China and other large Asian powers. Diplomats described the meeting as a way to bring Cambodia into the fold—but it broke up without news of an agreement.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi had described the side meeting to reporters as a good-faith measure to remind all members of Asean’s norms and values. “We need as a whole [for] Asean to voice the importance of protecting our home,” she said. “We must guard this home, and Indonesia will be on the front lines. We will not let others ruin our home.”

Changes to Asean rules are seen as a last-measure resort, diplomats said.

“First, I think, we want to see Asean remains united,” Ms. Marsudi said.

Several participants said the Philippines and Vietnam, the two nations that have clashed most with China over maritime territorial claims, were “trying to hijack” the gathering by insisting on stronger language on the South China Sea than other members support. Diplomats from Hanoi and Manila didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.

But diplomats complain most that China is leaning on Cambodia to block Asean efforts on the South China Sea. Some claim China’s announcement of almost $600 million in aid for Cambodia after the ruling is a reward, although China has denied any political connection to the move. Mr. Hun Sen said he asked for the aid and that it will support election infrastructure, education, and health projects.

“To force all the Asean countries to form a unified stance on this issue is contrary to unanimity through consultations,” China’s foreign ministry said in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal, adding that “various states within Asean take different stances on the South China Sea issues.”

The ministry called Manila’s decision to initiate the arbitration case “treachery’’ running counter to a so-called declaration of conduct agreed to with Asean in 2002. Talks on a stronger and more-binding code of conduct have stalled for years.

Asean diplomats hope China will soften its stance with time, with some pointing to a policy paper China released after the ruling that makes no mention of the so-called “nine-dash line” that China has used to mark its claims to 90% of the sea. The tribunal ruled that the line has no legal basis.

“Let things cool for now,” one Southeast Asian diplomat said.

Write to Ben Otto at ben.otto@wsj.com

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