The United States said that the conflict in South China Sea remains among the major issues to be discussed in Washington’s upcoming meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other countries.
For the first time, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit the Philippines next week to participate in the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asian Summit, the US-ASEAN ministerial meeting, and the Lower Mekong Initiative meeting.
Tillerson is expected to meet with his ASEAN counterparts and discuss a range of issues, including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, maritime security, and counterterrorism.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, August 2, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs dismissed concerns that the South China Sea dispute has dropped off as a major issue in ASEAN meetings.
“I definitely would not agree that the South China Sea has in any way dropped off. It’ll certainly be a focus of the discussion also in Manila… it certainly hasn’t been knocked out of the front of our minds and it will be a focus at the upcoming meetings,” the department’s Acting Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton said.
According to her, the U.S. government will “continue to press for language” that makes Washington’s “dedication to protect and defend the freedom of navigation and overflight” in the South China Sea “clear.”
She cited that Washington also made a “number of conversations with allies and partners in the region about their concerns over latent tensions and continued concerns” over the disputes in the area.
“We’ll press for due regard for legal processes, dispute resolution mechanisms, and upholding, certainly, international law and the UN (United Nations) Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Thornton added.
While the U.S. government welcomes the framework on the code of conduct in South China Sea, which has been discussed and agreed among the ASEAN states and China, Washington said will also continue “to call for the rapid adoption of an effective [COC].”
The ASEAN foreign ministers are expected to adopt the COC framework during the ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting on Sunday, August 6.
“The framework is really just the outline of what would be the content of the agreement and the agreement still needs to be negotiated, and we would like to see it negotiated expeditiously and we would also like to see the eventual code of conduct contain effective measures to — for restraint and for dispute resolution, and also that the — whatever the agreement eventually contains, that the content be considered by all parties to be legally binding,” Thornton said.
In what appeared to be a “soft” stance in the maritime issue, the ASEAN ministers, in its leaked draft statement, only “took note” of its concerns over the developments in South China Sea.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) did not verify the accuracy of the leaked joint communique but said “there is every likelihood that it could still evolve.”
“The views, the concerns of all ASEAN member states will be expressed in the joint communique and it will be adopted by consensus as different from the chairman statement where the chairman is free to reflect whatever he or she believes is an accurate representation of the discussions on the floor of that meeting,” DFA Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar told reporters on Thursday, August 3. (Dana Sioson/AJPress)