by Roy Mabasa
From Beijing’s perspective, the real progress made during the recently concluded 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings hosted by Manila is that under the joint efforts of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-countries, the situation in the South China Sea has been stabilized.
This was pointed out by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as he expressed his views on the outcome of the meetings attended by foreign ministers and senior officials from the 10 ASEAN member-countries and its dialogue partners which include China.
According to Minister Wang, ASEAN and China were able to conduct effective cooperation and to pull the controversies back on track where all parties directly concerned can resolve this issue through dialogue and negotiation.
“We have succeeded in formulating and adopting the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea framework as well as declared to launch substantive negotiation on the specific drafts at an appropriate time within this year after being fully-prepared,” said Wang.
He further pointed out that the most distinctive contrast in the series of Foreign Ministers’ meetings is that China and South China Sea coastal states “all highly affirm the positive and stable situation in the South China Sea while some other countries outside the South China Sea are still dwelling on the past and turning a blind eye to positive changes of the situation.”
“These countries disagree on the valuable outcomes jointly achieved by China and ASEAN countries, and even release negative information,” Wang said.
He said an example of this is the Joint Statement issued by the foreign ministers of the United States, Japan, and Australia following the seventh ministerial meeting of the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD).
In the said statement Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Kono, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on China and the Philippines to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal’s 2016 Award in the Philippines-China arbitration, as it is final and legally binding on both parties.
“With such a sharp contrast, we cannot help wondering whether some countries are unwilling to see the stabilized situation in the South China Sea or the further stabilized situation in the South China Sea does not conform to the interests of these countries,” said Wang.
With regard to the Joint Communiqué of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Wang Yi stated that the said comprehensive document “describes the important progress made in China-ASEAN relations and demonstrates the confidence of all parties in the prospects for China-ASEAN relations in a very striking part.”
According to Wang, the Chinese government has put forward seven major initiatives for the future development of China-ASEAN relations. All of which, he noted, have won the approval and recognition of the ASEAN countries.
Wang pointed out that since “some foreign ministers” expressed concerns about the “land-reclamation” activities, this indicates that there is no consensus of all ASEAN countries.
“In fact, one or two countries expressed this kind of concern and what I would like to inform everyone is that China has completed our land-filling two years ago,” he said. “Thus, if such phenomenon of sea-filling for land-reclamation still exists, it will never happen in China.”
Regarding the statement on “non-militarization” in the Communiqué, Wang said this is not the same as in the past either.
He said this year, it is about “all countries” including the restraint of both the inner-domain and the areas outside the domain.