ASEAN’s consensus in East Sea issue

(VOVworld)- China’s recent artificial island building and militarization of facilities in the East Sea have alarmed the international community and ASEAN countries in particular. Since the ASEAN Community was set up, awareness of ASEAN’s role in the issue has been raised.
ASEAN’s consensus in East Sea issue - ảnh 1

The East Sea is relevant to the claimed countries but also other ASEAN member states because it is an important transportation route in the region.

Stronger unity

Territorial disputes were high on the agenda of the US-ASEAN summit in California in February, 2016, but its joint statement did not mention the East Sea specifically. The two sides called for respect for national sovereignty and international law. Analysts said, because it did not mention China, the joint statement which was released at the end of the summit showed widening splits within ASEAN.  But at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Vientiane, Laos on February 27, the Ministers stressed the need to settle the East Sea issues in a peaceful manner with respect for diplomatic and legal procedures, and not to use or threaten to use force. For the first time, ASEAN has released an official statement supporting legal measures in addressing territorial disputes. Associate Professor Le Van Cuong is Former Director of the Strategy Research Institute of the Ministry of Public Security: “It was a positive reaction from ASEAN. 10 ASEAN countries shared the same goal. ASEAN plays an important role, not only economically. In the current global situation, ASEAN needs to bring into play its central role in the region and the world”.

The Chairman’s Statement released at the Retreat expressed the leaders’ concerns over the recent and ongoing developments in the East Sea, including land reclamation, which have eroded trust and confidence amongst the parties, and may undermine peace, security and stability. ASEAN called for non-militarization and restraint in the region. Associate Professor Doctor Nguyen Vu Tung of the East Sea Institute says: “Reports of the situation in the East Sea have increased showing the escalation of China’s ongoing activities which run counter to international law and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as well as bilateral and multilateral political statements. To ASEAN countries, China’s actions affect the trust of other countries”.

Open discussions on and inclusion of the East Sea issue in the press release after the meeting showed the balanced role of Laos as 2016’s ASEAN Chair. At the summit, Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said Laos, as the Chairman of ASEAN, will work with other ASEAN member countries to promote cooperation between China and ASEAN to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea and finalize a Code of Conduct in the East Sea. Singapore suggested expanding the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) to reduce tensions in the region. As a coordinating country for ASEAN-China relations in 2016, Singapore pledged to promote COC to help disputed parties to ease tensions and avoid conflicts.

Promoting ASEAN’s central role

Recent developments in the East Sea have raised serious concerns among ASEAN countries who benefit from ensured safety and security in the region. Continuous militarization in the disputed waters threatens regional stability. More than ever, the ASEAN Community with its shared mission needs to promote unity and regional growth and address global challenges.