ULAAN, BAATAR – Asian and European leaders gathered Friday in Ulaan Baatar for a biennial summit to discuss challenges from terrorism and tensions in the South China Sea to the fallout from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
The Asia-Europe Meeting, attended by leaders or high-level representatives of more than 50 countries and organizations, comes days after an international tribunal ruled that there are no legal grounds to China’s claims to historic and economic rights in most of the South China Sea.
There will be close attention to what the leaders — including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — say about the ruling.
“It is necessary to have a peaceful resolution for affairs involving the South China Sea,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in remarks in Ulaan Baatar.
“We should attach great importance to the rule of law and hold onto the principle of not tolerating any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo by force.”
The case brought by the Philippines in 2013 to challenge China’s expansive claims in the disputed sea is being seen as a test of Beijing’s commitment to a rules-based international order.
But immediately after the Permanent Court of Arbitration announced the decision on Tuesday, China angrily rejected it, calling the ruling “null and void” and lacking “binding force.”
Chinese officials even dubbed the case a “completely political farce under the pretext of law” and argued that the tribunal’s decision was manipulated by countries such as Japan and the United States.
Those nations have no claims in the South China Sea but regard it as a key international shipping route. The sea bed also may hold large oil and gas deposits.
Senior diplomats involved in setting the summit agenda said a draft of the chair’s statement does not mention China by name and nor does it specifically touch on the ruling.
But the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they at least want to send a message to the rest of the world that maritime disputes should be settled by peaceful means in line with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.
The tribunal in The Hague is constituted by the 1982 U.N. convention.
The leaders are expected to reaffirm the principle of abstaining from “unilateral actions in contravention of international law which can raise tensions,” according to the draft seen by Kyodo News.
The summit opened with a moment of silence for the victims of an apparent terrorist attack on crowds in the French city of Nice on Thursday. The French interior minister has been quoted as saying at least 80 people died when a truck plowed along a promenade packed with revelers.
The leaders condemned other recent terrorist attacks, including the one at a Dhaka restaurant on July 1, in which nine Italians and seven Japanese were among 20 hostages killed.
Aside from political issues, the meeting is the first opportunity for European and Asian leaders to discuss how best to shield the global economy from the fallout of Britain’s vote last month to leave the European Union.
There is concern — especially in Europe — over China’s excess capacity in steel and other industries in the face of weak global demand.
While China has pledged to press ahead with its oft-repeated “supply-side reform,” major economies believe that Chinese state-owned steelmakers and other producers are distorting global market prices.
The two-day summit runs through Saturday.
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