NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: Defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held an informal meeting with their Chinese counterpart following their annual ministerial meeting Tuesday in Myanmar’s administrative capital Naypyitaw, but issued no clear statement on recent disputes in the South China Sea.
Still, the meeting came amid rising tensions between ASEAN member Vietnam and China following anti-China riots in Vietnam sparked by repeated clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels earlier this month near an oil rig China is setting up in an area of the South China Sea claimed by both countries.
The contents of the 90-minute meeting were not immediately disclosed, but the ASEAN ministers admitted much of the discussion was on the South China Sea.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Myanmar Defense minister Lt. Gen. Wai Lwin said talks were “very constructive” as all participants “frankly and actively” discuss the matters in a “positive way.”
“The discussions are on the one you can expect — the South China Sea issue,” Wai Lwin said.
China, during the meeting, invited ASEAN to have the defense ministers’ meeting in Beijing next year, and ASEAN is considering the offer, according to Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin.
“There is an invitation…so we are getting a consensus,” he said.
The meeting was attended by delegations from all ASEAN countries except Laos. Lao Defense Minister Douangchay Phichit was killed in a plane crash Saturday.
The ASEAN ministers also signed a joint declaration reaffirming ASEAN’s commitment to consolidate defense cooperation that “contributes towards the realization” of the ASEAN Community 2015, a press statement issued at the end of the meeting said.
The statement did not mention the South China Sea or recent anti-Chinese incidents in Vietnam and instead just said “the ministers had a frank and candid exchange of views on regional and international security and defense issues and discussed ways and means to advance defense cooperation in ASEAN.”
Vietnamese Defense Minister Sr. Gen. Phung Quang Thanh said Vietnam raised the South China Sea issue, referred to by the country as the East Sea issue.
Wai Lwin also confirmed the issue was discussed. He said it is an ongoing issue of territorial dispute with very complex political aspects involving a lot of countries.
“We have clearly declared and identified our stand and position on this issue in our Naypyitaw Declaration on the ASEAN community made May 11, 2014,” Wai Lwin added.
The Naypyitaw Declaration, which was issued after the ASEAN Summit earlier this month, calls for the “full and effective implementation” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in accordance with recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. PNA