MANILA, Philippines — The Latest on annual meetings of Southeast Asian foreign ministers and their counterparts from the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, the two Koreas and other nations (all times local):
In a surprise move, Southeast Asia’s top diplomats have defied China’s steadfast stance and issued a joint communique that indirectly criticizes its land reclamations and military fortifications in the disputed South China Sea.
The 10 foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also mentioned late Sunday 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 strategic waterway. As in past criticisms, they did not cite China by name.
A draft communique seen by The Associated Press days before the ministers held their annual summit in Manila on Saturday failed to mention the sensitive criticisms, which China has opposed to be discussed in multinational forums.
A Southeast Asian diplomat told the AP on Sunday that Vietnam had pushed for stronger language despite opposition from many of the ministers, whose countries rely heavily on China for trade and investment.
The United States’ top diplomat for Asia says countries in the region should suspend work on improving, expanding or militarizing outposts so that a diplomatic resolution for disputes over the South China Sea can move forward.
Susan Thornton is alluding to China’s artificial island-building in the disputed waters. She says the U.S. plans to discuss the issue with other Asian nations during a regional meeting taking place in the Philippines.
Thornton says she expects China and other countries in the dispute will likely announce a new “code of conduct” framework during the summit for dealing with the maritime issue.
China has opposed including mention of its island-building or an arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s historical claims to the strategic waters. But Thornton says the U.S. will continue referring to the ruling and will keep pressing for freedom of navigation and for respect for rules and laws.
China’s top diplomat says talks for a nonaggression pact aimed at preventing clashes from erupting in the disputed South China Sea may start this year if “outside parties” don’t cause a major disruption.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday that the start of talks for a “code of conduct” in the disputed waters may be announced by the heads of state of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations when they meet at an annual summit in the Philippines in November if Beijing’s conditions are met.
Wang said at a news conference in Manila that those three conditions include non-interference by “outside parties,” obviously referring to the United States, which Beijing has frequently accused of meddling in the territorial disputes.
China’s territorial disputes in the strategic waterway with five other governments intensified after it built islands in disputed waters and reportedly started to install a missile defense system on them, alarming rival claimant states and Western governments.
Two Southeast Asian diplomats say disagreements over North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests and territorial disputes in the South China Sea have prevented the region’s top diplomats from promptly issuing their joint communique after an annual summit in Manila over the weekend.
One of the diplomats tells The Associated Press that Cambodia expressed concern over the issuance by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ foreign ministers of a separate statement criticizing North Korea’s two ICBM tests last month.
The diplomat said Sunday Cambodia wants its sentiments on the Korean Peninsula better reflected in the ASEAN foreign ministers’ joint communique, causing a delay in its issuance Saturday after the ministers concluded their meeting.
Another diplomat says the wordings on the South China Sea issue to be included in the communique had not yet been finalized Saturday.
The diplomat says the South China Sea may be settled faster and will likely not carry sensitive issues that China objects to because the ministers are aware of Beijing’s crucial economic and trade relations with ASEAN member states.
Both diplomats spoke to the AP condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issues publicly.
— Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines