Abe raises South China Sea dispute at ASEAN

Kyodo, Reuters, AP

Asia-Pacific leaders gathered Sunday for an annual summit where they condemned terrorism but remained apart on growing tensions in the disputed South China Sea.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Kuala Lumpur came as maritime disagreements dominate global headlines.

The gathering featured 18 countries, including China, Japan and the United States.

Many leaders at the summit, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, raised concerns about the South China Sea, a key shipping route thought to hold significant oil and gas deposits, a Japanese official said.

U.S. President Barack Obama, Abe and almost all other leaders raised concerns over the situation in the sea, a key shipping route thought to hold significant oil and gas deposits, and said the time has come to lower tensions heightened by China’s land reclamation activities, according to the officials.

One of them, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said China received “verbal attacks from all corners during the meeting.”

“There is an ongoing large-scale and rapid reclamation project aimed at creating a base for military purposes” in the waters, Abe said after the summit. “I am seriously concerned about the move to change the status quo.”

Calling Beijing’s projects in the contested waterway a threat to freedom of navigation in the region, Washington last month sent a guided-missile destroyer within the 12-nautical-mile (22-km) territorial limit claimed by China around Subi Reef in the Spratly archipelago.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin on Sunday labeled U.S. patrols in the waters political provocations.

Beijing will continue to construct military facilities on artificial islands it is building, Liu told a news conference, saying the facilities are needed to protect the islands.

“This time, in a very high-profile manner, the U.S. sent military vessels within 12 nautical miles of China’s islands and reefs,” Liu said. “This has gone beyond the scope of freedom of navigation. It is a political provocation and the purpose is to test China’s response.”

At a separate news conference, U.S. President Barack Obama said the issue was a “key topic” at the summit that included China, as well as at a separate summit he had with leaders of 10 Southeast Asian countries.

“Many leaders spoke about the need to uphold international principles, including the freedom of navigation, and overflight and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” Obama said.

“My fellow leaders from Japan, Australia and the Philippines have reaffirmed that our treaty alliances remained the foundation of regional security. The United States is boosting our support for the Philippines maritime capabilities and those of our regional partners,” Obama said.

Beijing had managed to tamp down the issue last week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which featured many of the same leaders. But after Obama voiced concern at Chinese moves in the waters in a Saturday meeting with leaders from the 10-member ASEAN grouping, the issue proved unavoidable Sunday.

“For the sake of regional stability, claimants should halt reclamation, new construction, and militarization of disputed areas,” Obama said Saturday.

At another meeting the same day that included Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and the ASEAN leaders, Abe expressed “serious concerns” about the reclamation and called for concerted efforts from the international community to block all unilateral attempts to change the status quo.

Neither Li nor other leaders reacted to or opposed these remarks, the officials added.

But China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported late Saturday that Li expressed discontent over the issue.

“In recent years, the South China Sea disputes, which should have been addressed by directly concerned countries through negotiation and talks, have been played up to become a problem concerning the South China Sea’s peace and stability and the freedom of navigation,” Li said according to Xinhua.

Li said some countries outside the region were conducting a high-profile intervention.

“That is in nobody’s interest,” Li said. “Only by expanding our common interests and seeking common ground can we narrow our differences,” he added.

Beijing, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has accused of Tokyo and Washington of meddling and has repeatedly insisted that its territorial disputes should be resolved bilaterally.

China has rival claims in the South China Sea with Taiwan and four ASEAN members, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Aside from the maritime disputes, which have been seen as a battle for leadership in Asia between China and the United States, the leaders’ discussions will likely center on their cooperation in fighting terrorism, following Friday’s deadly assault by militants on a hotel in the Mali capital that left three Chinese businessmen dead.

The assault came a week after a spate of shootings and explosions in Paris, claimed by Islamic State extremists, killed 130 people.

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    You know, I heard that there’s still this one tribe, deep in the Amazon rainforest, that Abe hasn’t been to visit yet, to ‘bring up’ the South China Sea.

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    You know, I heard that there’s still this one tribe, deep in the Amazon rainforest, that Abe hasn’t been to visit yet, to ‘bring up’ the South China Sea.

  • tiger

    I don’t know what Abe is getting out of this. How does Japan benefit from opposing China in SCS? Is Abe hoping that Japan would replace the USA among the ASEANs? Or is the USA asking Abe to behave as such? Or is Abe just opposing China whenever he can?

    • Ahojanen

      Japan doesn’t solely target PRC on SCS issue, but get assured at free navigation around there, a critical sea lane for the country. She would have no hesitation to criticise Vietnam or the Philippines should they unilaterally try to militalise the area by building up artificial islands.

      Abe encourages a peaceful settlement among conflicting parities, for example, by going legal at the Hague.

      • tiger

        Sure, but what does Abe hope to achieve here? Seems counter-productive.

      • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

        It was all big talk anyway. Abe’s just announced that the SDF won’t conduct ‘freedom of navigation’ trips through the SCS. Just big talk again. Abe sure likes flapping his lips when there’s a camera on him.

  • CLJF

    How much of a bully is China, unilaterally “reclaiming” land, then attempting to justify the construction of military facilities on these artificial islands by stating it needs to “protect” islands that it stole? No wonder nobody believes that China’s peaceful rise always was or trusts such a deceitful, aggressive country. I’m glad something was said, glad that at least Abe had the guts to call out China on its illegal and conflict-provoking actions, but now concerted action needs to be taken to show China that its aggression and flouting of international law will not be tolerated. Can hardly wait for its own self-inflicted demographic problems kick to help refocus its attention away from bullying its neighbours and getting its own house in order. China – bully and hypocrite.

  • Ah Ee Tan

    As it is by today’s peaceful and comfortable livelihoods enjoyed by Soth China Sea nations, it is utmost important to keep it up peacefully and continue to further improve it regardless of whatever obstacles and challenges on coming. Wi’th this big picture behind, we shall see the current SCS wrestling stage with reservation of what is actually going on?… on the deeper issue. What is clear is US is not happy with Her tradition of military freedom of spying and surveying, meanly for Her own interest if in case ther is unavoidable war over here in SCS, She will definitely edge advantage over the potential enermies. Meanwhile, China knows Her peaceful rising with economic can not be fulfilled if Her military does not follow up because China can be interfeared and taken advantage. This becomes easy excuse for contender countries to point fingure at China’s threathening aimbitions.

    From history, we learnt that major war always spark off with excuses, hiden from real intention. I feel US is trying to pull SCS claimant countries, based on UNCLOS EEZ rule, behind her to spark off confrontation with the lonely sole claimant China baqsed on her historical treaties based right. In the event if there is realyy a WAR break out, SCS countries and China will suffer the most losses, and the South China Sea timeline events as stipulated in WIKIPEDIA will be updated quite differently from NOW>