ASEAN address maritime disputes, but avoid confronting with Beijing

Southeast Asian countries gather Monday in Kuala Lumpur where territorial water disputes with China dominate regional summit, but leaders avoid direct confrontation with Beijing

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) focuses on further integration of the regional economies as the maritime disputes in South China Sea came to the fore in the summit’s agenda on Monday, in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The 10 members bloc raises concerns over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, but some member states avoid unnecessarily antagonizing the People’s Republic in the summit.

As the host of the summit, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak stressed the need for a non-confrontational approach to the issue with Beijing in order to keep the parties on the table.

"We will continue to engage China in a constructive way," the Malaysian PM said in a press conference after the leaders’ meeting.

"We hope to be able to influence China. It is also in their interest not to be seen as confronting ASEAN and that any attempt to destabilise this region will not benefit China either," he added.

Just before the summit started, the Philippines had urged the ASEAN nations on Sunday to take immediate actions for preventing Chinese land reclamations in the disputed waters in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is the loudest side against China’s territorial water claims in the region and believes that unless the ASEAN countries halt “Chinese revisionism,” the area will be taken under the “de facto Beijing control” in the medium term.

Manila had also filed a case against Chinese claims in the international arbitration tribunal in 2013. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III also reminded Manila’s worries earlier in a speech at the summit.

"The massive reclamation activities undertaken by China pose a threat to the security and stability of the region, cause irreparable damage to the marine environment and threaten the livelihood of many of our peoples," the Philippine president said. But, Malaysia takes a more constructive approach and indirectly rejected Manila's offer to stand against Beijing in the summit.

Instead, Malaysia sought an "expeditious resolution" to the water disputes in the South China Sea. China has long been confronting with its neighbours Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei in the South China Sea territorial waters.

The parties’ claims overlap on maritime transportation, exclusive economic zones, fishing grounds, undersea bed gas and oil reserves have already deteriorated the problem as China started to build artificial Spratly Islands last year. Officials from the ASEAN countries and China are scheduled to meet in the months to come for hastening peace negotiations on the issue, according to Malaysian side.

TRTWorld and agencies