China and a collection of Southeast Asian countries have resumed talks to put this whole Hague Tribunal ruling on the South China Sea behind them, after Beijing swiftly rejected the court’s judgement earlier this month.
In the most recent statement following a meeting in Laos, ASEAN and China agreed not to “[inhabit] the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.” They also pledged to “peacefully solve territorial disputes through negotiation in accordance with international laws, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” reports the South China Morning Post.
Most importantly, the statement fails to mention the recent ruling against China’s claim over more than 80% of the South China Sea, and provides Beijing with enough wiggle room to continue on its present course in the region. China has said it will “never” halt its work on the artificial islands.
Before the ASEAN meeting, Cambodia objected to the proposed wording of the statement, placing the negotiations in a deadlock. Cambodia is China’s closest ally within ASEAN, and have opposed unfriendly statements on the South China Sea before. Fortunately, everything seems to have worked out in the end.
During the high-profile meeting, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to support peace talks between Beijing and Manila. Kerry agreed that “the time has come to move away from public tensions and turn the page.”
Wang also made it clear that China does not appreciate outside interference to “divide relations between China and ASEAN,” a remark that likely refers to the US and Japan.
Previously, China asked the Philippines to resume bilateral negotiations on the disputed territory, as long as they first officially ignored the Hague ruling. The Philippines has rejected this proposal. Instead, it “vigorously pushed” for including a comment on the arbitration ruling in the ASEAN joint statement; however, those efforts were thwarted by China and its allies, though the Philippines refused to see that as a Chinese victory.
The Philippines’ Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay told a news conference:
I am just saying this to dispel the reports that have been said that China came out victorious in the ASEAN meeting because we precisely agreed to not mentioning the arbitral award.
But that (was) not the object of our meeting in ASEAN. The arbitral award is a matter between China and the Philippines.
Meanwhile, attitudes of some Chinese citizens have been less than peaceful, with “patriots” protesting the Hague court ruling in front of American fast food chains and (fake) Apple Stores.
By Amy Yang
[Image via china.com]