Southeast Asian foreign ministers yesterday ended an impasse over how to address disputes with China in the South China Sea, issuing a communique that called for militarization to be avoided and noting concern about island-building.
The South China Sea has long been the most divisive issue for ASEAN, with China’s influence looming large over its activities. Some countries are wary about the possible repercussions of defying Beijing by taking a stronger stand.
ASEAN on Saturday failed to issue the customary statement, over what diplomats said was disagreement about whether to make oblique references to China’s rapid expansion of its defense capabilities on artificial islands in disputed waters.
China is sensitive to even a veiled reference by ASEAN to its seven reclaimed reefs, three of which have runways, missile batteries, radars and, according to some experts, the capability to accommodate fighter jets.
The communique issued late yesterday takes a stronger position than an earlier, unpublished draft, which was a watered-down version of one issued last year in Laos.
The agreed text “emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restrain.”
It said that after extensive discussions, concerns were voiced by some members about land reclamation “and activities in the area which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tension and may undermine peace, security and stability.”
ASEAN’s deadlock over the statement highlights China’s growing influence on the grouping at a time of uncertainty over the new US administration’s security priorities and whether it will try to keep China’s maritime activities in check.
Several ASEAN diplomats said that among the members who pushed for a communique that retained the more contentious elements was Vietnam, which has competing claims with China over the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) and has had several spats with Beijing over energy concessions.
However, another diplomat said there was no real disagreement on the contents of the communique and stressed that the initial draft was seen by some members as weak.
The ASEAN ministers also mentioned in their 46-page statement a vague reference to an international arbitration ruling last year that invalidated China’s historical claims to virtually all of the South China Sea. As in past criticisms, they did not cite China by name.
Earlier in the day, the foreign ministers of ASEAN and their Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi (王毅), adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress, but was seen by critics as a tactic to buy Beijing time to consolidate its maritime power.
Analysts said the agreement on a framework comes 15 years after a similar document was signed committing the parties to negotiating a code of conduct.
Meanwhile, Japanese deputy Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Toshihide Ando told a news conference in Manila that his government was gravely concerned about China’s building of what he called “large-scale outposts” in the South China Sea.
Additional reporting by AFP and AP
Dignitaries from 47 countries yesterday congratulated President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on the commencement of her second term and highlighted Taiwan’s achievements in democracy and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent his congratulations a day earlier. As of noon yesterday, 263 high-ranking officials from 47 countries and global organizations had congratulated Tsai via statements, letters, social media posts or recorded footage, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, while releasing a collection of footage sent by selected dignitaries. The governments of Taiwan’s 15 diplomatic allies sent their congratulations, as did the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy,
REASSURING NUMBERS: Taiwan’s test capacity ranks sixth or seventh among 91 nations, and is not low compared with other nations, Chen Shih-chung said The quarantine period for foreigners visiting Taiwan for business would vary based on the COVID-19 situation of the nation or territory that they are coming from, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday, as it reported the 13th consecutive day of no new cases. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, told reporters at the center’s daily briefing that modified rules covering foreign business visitors had been completed and were ready for him to sign. The complete details of the new rules would be released later this week, he said. Foreigners on long business trips would have
IN PROTEST: The US’ top diplomat said the WHA had been deprived of Taiwan’s scientific expertise, while Tsai said political factors should not be put above health US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Monday condemned Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Assembly (WHA), while President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday lodged a strong protest against the WHO for not inviting Taiwan. Twenty-two nations voiced support for Taiwan’s bid for participation on the first day of the assembly’s two-day virtual meeting, but despite the global community’s unprecedentedly strong support for Taiwan, it remained blocked from the assembly, with WHO member states on Monday agreeing to delay discussion on Taiwan until later this year. Pompeo, who on May 6 urged WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to invite Taiwan to the WHA,
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday announced no new cases of COVID-19, adding that a ban on mask exports would be lifted soon under three conditions. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that 401 people from among the nation’s 440 confirmed cases have been removed from isolation. Yesterday was the 12th consecutive day that no new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Taiwan, and the 37th day of no new domestic cases. “As our local communities have gradually become safe, we should not become careless,” Chen said. “We should continue to take personal protective measures