US-China tensions scrap plans for ASEAN statement

Association of Southeast Nations defence ministers forced to drop plans for joint declaration due to US-China tensions over South China Sea

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Defence Ministers of Philippines, South Korea, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, United States pose for a photogragh at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 4, 2015 (Left to Right)

Asia-Pacific defence ministers fail to issue a planned joint statement during regional defence talks in Malaysia due to differences between China and the United States over the content of the document, in which Beijing opposes the mentioning of the South China Sea disputes.

The reason for the cancellation of the 'Kuala Lumpur Joint Declaration' was not made clear, but the signing ceremony was removed from the revised schedule of the day’s programme.

The 3rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defence Ministers Meeting of 2015 had begun on Tuesday (November 3) in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, the gathering brought together 10 defence ministers from ASEAN, along with their counterparts from countries such as the United States, Japan, China, India and Australia.

Officials said this was the first time defence ministers were unsuccessful in the release of a joint statement.

A senior US defence official said China “lobbied to keep any reference to the South China Sea out of the final joint declaration,".

"Understandably a number of ASEAN countries felt that was inappropriate. It reflects the divide China's reclamation and militarisation in the South China Sea has caused in the region," he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

China's Defence Ministry, however, accused "certain countries" outside Southeast Asia of trying to influence the content of the statement, referring to the US and Japan.

The ministry said US and Japan "tried to forcefully stuff in content to the joint declaration", which is the reason why it could not be issued.

Officials this week said the US and Japan were pressuring ASEAN to include concerns about the South China Sea in the joint statement. A source familiar with the discussions had said Japan requested to host Malaysia to “improve” the draft of the statement.

The three-day event comes a week after the US initiated a naval mission in the South China Sea, deploying a guided-missile destroyer, that sailed within 12 nautical miles of at least one of the two artificial islands built by Beijing in the Spratly archipelago.

In a meeting held in the Malaysian capital on Tuesday US Defence Secretary Ash Carter told his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan that the US would continue to sail its vessels in waters that China claims, as Chang responded Beijing would defend its islands.

On Wednesday, Chang said ‘freedom of navigation’ - a term the US has used to describe its patrols in the South China Sea - should not be "hyped up" or used as an excuse for provocation.

China says its man-made islands have been built for civilian purposes, a claim US, Japan and other nearby countries don’t buy and believe could be used for military purposes.


TRTWorld and agencies