ASEAN Defense Ministers Fail to Agree on South China Sea Statement

BenarNews Staff
151104-MY-asean-1000 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (right) greets U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter during the ASEAN Defense Ministers-Plus meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 4, 2015.

Defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could not reach an agreement Wednesday on a joint statement on the South China Sea, following disagreements between the United States and China.

ASEAN’s 10 members invited defense leaders from eight countries, including the two superpowers, Australia, Japan and India to the Third ASEAN Defense Ministers – Plus two-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

U.S. officials pressed for a joint statement to include mention of the South China Sea disputes while China lobbied members to avoid any references, Reuters reported.

The lack of agreement comes just days after China expressed concern about the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, sailing near one of China’s manmade archipelago in the Spratly Islands. A planned signing ceremony had to be canceled.

“The decision was made by ASEAN because there is no consensus, so no joint declaration is signed,” Malaysian Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein told reporters, according to Malay Mail Online.

ASEAN members Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines have raised concerns over China’s continuing efforts to create new land masses, including airfields, in the island chain, arguing that China is trying to claim shipping lanes, mineral and fishing rights in the sea.

The Philippines has been especially vocal in its complaints about China’s growing foothold in the South China Sea, arguing that China’s nine-dash line claim to nearly all of the South China Sea violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration on Oct. 29 determined that it would hear the Philippines’ case against China.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the lack of a statement reflected concern about China’s activity.

“Obviously, they weren't able to reach consensus and that reflects I think the level of concern that was reflected in the conversation about activities in the South China Sea,” Carter said, according to news reports.

Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan said his country was willing to join hands with ASEAN to build a closer community, deepen pragmatic cooperation and to interact with other countries in the region, China’s official news agency Xinhua reported.

Malay Mail Online reported on a copy of remarks by Hishammuddin, which were released to the media, and later retracted a reference that ASEAN sought a peaceful resolution and that collisions in open seas and skies had to be avoided at all costs.

Hishammuddin and Carter are scheduled to cruise on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on Thursday. The ship has been on patrol in the South China Sea.


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