SINGAPORE: Indonesia and Vietnam have separately said that the recent strongly worded ASEAN statement on the South China Sea did in fact have the consensus of all ASEAN foreign ministers.
The document, released by Malaysia and described as a joint statement from the bloc, warned developments in the hotly contested South China Sea could "undermine peace, security and stability".
The statement specified "land reclamation" as a source of tension, a clear reference to China's massive island building activities where it is trying to cement a claim to almost the whole sea.
But just hours later, Malaysia said the grouping was retracting the statement for "urgent amendments", but offered no reason. Various participants have since given conflicting explanations over what happened.
Vietnam’s foreign affairs ministry on Thursday insisted ASEAN member states had come to a “unanimous agreement” in Kunming on what was to be issued to media at the meeting.
ASEAN countries had agreed on the contents of the statement, which included the “common stance of ASEAN member states on the issue of the South China Sea” and their positive assessment of the meeting outcomes, foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said on Thursday, in an email reply to questions from Channel NewsAsia.
In a news conference also on Thursday, the Indonesian foreign ministry agreed that the contents of the statement were consistent with ASEAN's stance on the issue. However, spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said it was supposed to be a mere media guideline, not a statement to be issued to the media.
There was no intention from the foreign ministers to issue a joint statement at the end of the meeting, whose objective was to prepare for the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-China relations, said Mr Arrmanatha.
On Friday, Malaysia's foreign affairs ministry echoed Vietnam's version of events, saying that the ministers had indeed "unanimously agreed to issue a media statement" at the conclusion of the meeting.
The contents of the statement had the consensus of all the ASEAN foreign ministers and with that in place, "no further discussions were held" on the matter and the ministers departed Kunming after the meeting, said secretary-general Othman Hashim.
"Subsequent developments pertaining to the media statement took place after the departure of the ASEAN foreign ministers," Mr Othman added.
"PRESSURE FROM CHINA"
Meanwhile, an ASEAN diplomat who was present at the meeting in the Chinese city of Kunming told AFP that China had put the screws on some Southeast Asian nations to get them to withdraw their support.
"The usual factor, pressure from China," said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, when asked why unity crumbled. "I suspect the two countries that opposed the statement were Cambodia and Laos."
ASEAN member states are currently discussing the release of their agreed statement, said Vietnam's Mr Binh.