VIENTIANE: Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) and China have reaffirmed their commitment to the full implementation of the Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC), and "to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea".
The joint statement was released in Laos on Monday (Jul 25), after the ASEAN foreign ministers' annual meeting.
Said the statement: "The parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)."
They also agreed to "undertake self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability" in the region.
The statement added that this includes "refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features".
The statement made no mention of the Jul 12 decision on the South China Sea by the international tribunal at the Hague that went against China.
OVERCOMING DAYS OF DEADLOCK
Southeast Asian nations overcame days of deadlock when the Philippines dropped a request for their joint statement to mention a landmark legal ruling on the South China Sea, officials said, after objections from Cambodia.
Beijing publicly thanked Cambodia for supporting its stance on maritime disputes, a position which threw the regional block's weekend meeting in the Laos capital of Vientiane into disarray.
Calling for bilateral discussions, Cambodia opposed the wording on the ruling, diplomats said.
Manila agreed to drop the reference to the ruling in the communique, one ASEAN diplomat said on Monday, in an effort to prevent the disagreement leading to the group failing to issue a statement.
The communique referred instead to the need to find peaceful resolutions to disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, including the United Nations' law of the sea, to which the court ruling referred.
"We remain seriously concerned about 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 said.
Cambodia's position was the right one and would safeguard unity of ASEAN and cooperation with China, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon, according to a statement posted on China's Foreign Ministry website early on Monday.
Speaking to Singapore media after the meeting, the Republic's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said ASEAN's credibility had been on the line.
"It was very difficult because the first question was whether or not we could arrive at a consensus sufficient to issue a meaningful joint communique," he said. "As you know, there was a delay and, quite frankly, because a lot of pressure was brought to bear.
Dr Balakrishnan said that it had initially not been possible to bring together all the different perspectives, but that the foreign ministers managed to arrive at a compromise.
"We managed to arrive at a consensus," he said. "We managed to put out a document, a communique, that reaffirms international law. And from Singapore’s perspective, as a small state, this is crucial. Because otherwise you end up with a world where might is right, or you end up with a world where it’s all about competing pressures being brought to bear."