ASEAN avoids hitting China in Chairman's Statement

Friday, 17 Nov, 2017

The statement also expressed "the deep concern of some ASEAN member states on issues relating to restricting market access for palm oil in the European market" which, it said, has adverse implications for the palm oil producing countries in ASEAN.

A reference to a landmark ruling favoring the Philippines' claims in the South China Sea may be implied, in the ASEAN Chairman's statement, but it still falls short of any significant action in resolving the dispute, an analyst said Thursday.

Asean member-states and China took a three-step process for the completion of an actual code of conduct - adoption of the framework, discussion of modalities for the negotiation of code of conduct, and announcement of start of negotiation for actual, legally-binding document.

The chairman's statement only said the leaders "emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states".

The same stand was highlighted in the joint statement issued after the Asean-EU Summit.

"Pending a comprehensive and durable settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes, the parties concerned may explore or undertake relevant cooperative activities, in accordance with universally recognized principles of global law, including the UNCLOS 1982, without prejudice to the positions of the concerned parties to the dispute", it said.

In the same statement, the group also denounced the emergence of terrorism and violent extremism.

Batongbacal said the Chairman's Statement, overall, was "good for China".

At that time, China was the biggest country building military facilities in the South China Sea. "It means South China Sea is no longer a problem and (it) gives no reason for external powers to be involved". Although the Chairman's statement is from one of the major claimants, the Philippines, a mention of global law does not necessarily entail the country is taking a stronger stance against China. "Our movement becomes more and more constricted", he said in an earlier interview on Wednesday.

Nearly all of the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest waterways, is claimed by China. In its place are the words "Chair to provide" in brackets. Batongbacal told CNN Philippines on Monday that this missing section could mean the Philippines was "placing the burden other countries to take the lead". This includes the Asean Regional Forum and East Asia Summit.

It was largely ignored by claimant-states, particularly China, which has constructed man-made islands and has harassed small fishermen making a living in the disputed waters.

Signing China up to a legally binding and enforceable code for the waterway has always been a goal for claimant members of ASEAN, some of which have sparred for years over what they see as China's disregard for their sovereign rights and its blocking of fishermen and energy exploration efforts.

The Asean, comprising Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, also urged the Myanmar government to continue to work towards restoring peace and stability in Rakhine, ensure safety of civilians and ensure peace and harmony among different communities.