Asean leaders gather at the “28th Asean Summit (Plenary)”. As ever, Asean falls short when looking for a catchy title. Source: YouTube
The Philippines and Japan have both expressed serious concern over Chinese advancement into the South China Sea as Asean leaders meet in Laos.
Shortly before regional leaders met Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang in Vientiane, Manila released photos which appeared to show Chinese ships near a disputed chain of islands.
Philippine officials said the pictures showed dredging at Scarborough Shoal and the construction of artificial islands.
“We have reason to believe that their presence is a precursor to building activities on the shoal,” said Arsenio Andolong, the Philippines defence department spokesman. “We are continuing our surveillance and monitoring of their presence and activities, which are disturbing. We are gravely concerned.”
On Wednesday, Asean leaders and the Chinese delegation agreed to create a telephone hotline to help avoid accidental clashes in the region.
The accord did not address the arbitration ruling at The Hague in July that rejected Chinese claims to historic and economic rights. Beijing refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the case filed by the Philippines in 2013.
“China will be satisfied with the outcome, as will Asean,” said Ian Storey of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. “But at the end of the day, it’s movement in lieu of progress.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also questioned Chinese advances into the South China Sea.
“I am seriously concerned with the continuing attempts to change unilaterally the status quo in the East and South China Sea,” Abe said in a statement.
Japan has a parallel dispute with China in the East China Sea over uninhabited islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China.
Tokyo is keen to bolster its relationships with Asean members. Abe reportedly asked Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to take a stronger stance on the South China Sea.
The Japanese leader called for a “peaceful settlement of the dispute” over the stretch of water through which an estimated US$5 trillion of trade passes each year.
China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and now Indonesia claim parts or all of the resource-rich sea.