ASEAN defense forum scraps Japan-backed statement referencing South China Sea concerns

AP, Reuters, JIJI, Bloomberg

Divisions within Asia over China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea spilled over Wednesday to a meeting of U.S. and Asian defense ministers, where China insisted the group make no public mention of the strategic waters in a joint declaration intended as a public display of unity.

Officials from Malaysia, which hosted the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) defense chiefs meeting, did not immediately comment on reasons for the cancellation. However, in a revised schedule of the day’s program, the signing ceremony for the Kuala Lumpur Joint Declaration was dropped.

Earlier, a senior U.S. defense official said China was lobbying Southeast Asian nations to drop any reference to concerns over the South China Sea in the statement.

“The reason is because the Chinese lobbied to keep any reference to the South China Sea out of the final joint declaration,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

“Understandably, a number of ASEAN countries felt that was inappropriate. It reflects the divide China’s reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea has caused in the region.”

The U.S. official added, “This was an ASEAN decision but in our view no statement is better than one that avoids the important issue of China’s reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea.”

China’s Defense Ministry, however, blamed “certain countries” outside Southeast Asia, a pointed reference to the United States and Japan.

They “tried to forcefully stuff in content to the joint declaration,” and the responsibility for failing to come up with a joint statement was completely with those countries, the ministry said in a microblog post.

Wednesday’s gathering brought together the 10 Southeast Asian defense ministers, along with ministers from countries such as the Australia, China, India, Japan and the United States.

The meeting, first held in 2006, is a platform to promote regional peace and stability. It took place a week after a U.S. warship challenged territorial limits around one of Beijing’s man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago with a so-called freedom-of-navigation patrol.

U.S. defense chief Ash Carter, who also attended the meeting, planned to go aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on Thursday as it transits the South China Sea off the Malaysian coast, a senior U.S. Official said. Carter planned to bring his Malaysian counterpart with him, the official added.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

Officials this week said the United States and Japan were pushing to get concerns about the South China Sea included in the joint statement.

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani called for cooperation in keeping the South China Sea open, free and peaceful in a speech to the ASEAN meeting on Wednesday.

Beijing had made clear as early as February that it didn’t want the South China Sea discussed at the meeting, a second senior U.S. defense official said earlier in the week.

Malaysia had agreed to include a mention of the South China Sea in the final statement, said a Philippine defense official traveling with the defense minister.

The official declined to give specific details but said the Philippines, which traditionally argues for a stronger stance against China’s territorial ambitions, was satisfied with the reference.

A copy of remarks by Malaysian Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein that appeared to have been issued to media by mistake and was later retracted stated that ASEAN seeks a “peaceful resolution to the disputes” in the South China Sea.

It added that “collisions in open seas and skies must be avoided at all costs” and that leaders should prioritize regional security.

“The threat is not what is on a piece of paper,” Hishammuddin said later. “What is signed in the joint declaration is not going to resolve the issue of duplicating claims, nor is it going to wish the vessels that are in the South China Sea away. To dwell on the joint declaration is not going to solve the real problems.”

Concluding the long-stalled code of conduct is needed “to build mutual trust and confidence and maintain peace, security and stability in the region,” Hishammuddin said in his chairman’s statement.

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    ASEAN nations choose China over Japan; America backs wrong horse.
    There you go, a much more accurate headline than all this ‘poor victim Japan cheated out of its entitlement by sneaky China’ paranoid rubbish.

    • T. Wannabe

      You are commenting on every JT articles and bashing Japanregardless of contexts. What made you hate the country so much, I wonder? And yet you read JT?

      • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

        Ah, yes, this is a typical right-wing/apologist straw man; that criticism of any individual aspect of Japan = total hatred of Japan, therefore ‘go home’,
        Because I love Japan deeply (I feel I am japanese in my heart), I am compelled to address Japan’s problems and seek a positive resolution, rather than pretending they don’t exist and go away.

      • T. Wannabe

        Your response to the criticism against you is quite crooked. Whoever disagrees with you are right-wing hate-mongers in your eyes. That reaction is actually exactly what, in your opinion, characterizes Japan. You got the worst of it there.
        And don’t get me wrong. I hate Japanese foreign policy and although I am Japanese, my identity doesn’t correspond.
        And your “self-righteous” approach doesn’t resonate in the Japanese society, or in any other country for that matter.

      • Zhanglan

        Well, you could ask the very same question about the pervasive media bias against China

        How about the following suggestions for why people dislike US and Japanese interference?

        1. Unlike China, Japan and the USA have a recent history of mass atrocities throughout Asia, and people have long memories

        2. Japan and the USA have no claim to territories in the South China Sea, and are opportunistically exploiting pre-existing disputes for reasons which have nothing whatsoever to do with Freedom of Navigation or the interests of ASEAN member states

        3. The recent Permanent Court of Arbitration hearing in respect of the Philippines’ challenge to interpretation of UNCLOS was rigged by the Japanese – who appointed 4 out of of the Judges, none of whom was from an Asian (let alone and ASEAN) country. This is a settled fact, but one which Reuters is not eager to present: ASEAN member states are not nearly as dumb as many Western audiences

        4. Many informed observers are sick to the back teeth of US and Japanese hypocrisy, insofar as not only are China’s recent actions no different from previous land reclamation by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan (which, of course, did not provoke either a 12-mile sail-by or a statement by ASEAN), but the Japanese themselves have been doing precisely the same thing in respect of the artificial Pacific atoll of Okinotorishima

        5. ASEAN is primarily an economic association, rather than a geopolitical puppet; its members typically have major trading links with China, and regard China for better or for worse as a fact of life. Excluding China – and only China – from the TPP, whilst refusing point blank to support the Chinese-led AIIB is perceived by many as both infantile and unhelpful to the economic development of South East Asia

      • Zhanglan

        My Comments on this discussion are now being censored

    • T. Wannabe

      You are commenting on every JT articles and bashing Japanregardless of contexts. What made you hate the country so much, I wonder? And yet you read JT?

    • T. Wannabe

      You are commenting on every JT articles and bashing Japanregardless of contexts. What made you hate the country so much, I wonder? And yet you read JT?

  • Zhanglan

    And there, Ladies & Gentlemen, is Reuters laid bare – the best they can do is to quote an anonymous U.S. defense official

    “the United States and Japan (neither of whom have claims in the South China Sea) were pushing to get concerns about the South China Sea included in the joint statement”

    which is entirely OK, whilst

    “the Chinese lobbied to keep any reference to the South China Sea out of the final joint declaration”

    in spite of the fact that

    “Understandably a number of ASEAN countries felt that was inappropriate”

    Boo! Hiss! They’re all Commies, you know!

    Go on, tell me this isn’t blatant propaganda dressed up as a news article;

  • eiji

    japan should not impose their wills on asean nation

    japan should respect the asean stance- they are neutral

    dispute over south china sea had nothing to do between asean and china

    this is dispute between china and individual nation – who happen to member of asean

  • T. Wannabe

    Sorry, you missed the point. If you read my first comment above, you might realize that I did not even initiate a discussion on ASEAN itself. I was curious what motivation this person has got to criticize any move Japan makes in every article here regardless of topics. I did not refer to a single word on Japanese interference with ASEAN. Thanks for the information but I am already familiar with what ASEAN is.