No fireworks over South China Sea expected as ASEAN ministers open meet

August 5, 2017 - 1:10 PM
ASEAN member states' flags. FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — With the Philippines at the helm, foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations who opened their meeting in Pasay City Saturday morning are not expected to take a strong stand against China’s continuing militarization of the South China Sea.

This is borne by the draft of a communiqué the ministers are expected to release, which makes no mention of China’s most aggressive moves or of the landmark Hague arbitral court ruling that recognized the Philippines’ right to disputed territories over China’s claims.

Earlier, Reuters also reported that a leaked blueprint for establishing an ASEAN-China code of maritime conduct does not call for it to be legally binding, or seek adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Reuters noted that, where last year’s statement, issued in Laos, expressed “serious concern” and “emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in all activities, including land reclamation,” this year’s draft communiqué merely calls for avoidance of “unilateral actions in disputed features.”

Changes may still be made to the draft in the course of the ministers’ meeting.

Meanwhile, there appeared to be a breaking with tradition in the opening ceremony of the 50th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, which is typically opened by the president of the host country.

However, what was listed in the official schedule for Saturday was a ministerial meeting and retreat.

Also Saturday, the foreign ministers of ASEAN dialogue partners, such as South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and China are scheduled to arrive.