Asean leaders alarmed over China sea spats

President Benigno Aquino 3rd smiles as he walks on the tarmac upon arriving at the international airport in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit on May 10.  AFP photo

President Benigno Aquino 3rd smiles as he walks on the tarmac upon arriving at the international airport in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit on May 10.
AFP photo

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) voiced alarm on Saturday over escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) after members Vietnam and Philippines squared off against Beijing in the disputed waters.

Asean foreign ministers “expressed serious concerns over the ongoing developments” in the sea, which is subject to a web of bitter overlapping claims, on the eve of a leaders’ summit in Naypyidaw.

Tensions in the South China Sea soared this week after Beijing moved a drilling rig into waters that are also claimed by Hanoi, sparking a stand-off in which Vietnam said its boats were attacked.

The incident drew a statement of concern from the United Nations.

Manila, which has asked a UN tribunal to rule on China’s claims over most of the sea, also detained a Chinese fishing boat in disputed territory.

The Asean ministers “urged all parties concerned . . . to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions which could undermine peace and stability in the area” in a statement issued on Saturday.

The statement also called on claimants to “resolve disputes by peaceful means without resorting to threat or use of force”.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the ministers’ meeting was dominated by maritime rows.

China and Vietnam, which fought a brief border war in 1979, have been locked in a longstanding territorial dispute over their contested waters, and frequently trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration, fishing rights and the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

Beijing claims sovereign rights to almost the whole of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.

The Philippines and Vietnam are the most vocal critics of China’s claims among the 10-member bloc.

But the South China Sea is also claimed in part by Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Natalegawa said the Asean statement was aimed “to be in support of peace and peaceful settlement of disputes”.

Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said Asean did not want to take sides.
But he said if the bloc stayed silent, “I think our desire to play a central role, our desire to be united, our desire to have a peaceful region—all of these and Asean’s own integrity I think will be seriously damaged”.

Tackle sea row

President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Saturday urged Asean to face up to the threat posed by China’s contentious sea claims.

Even though not all Asean members are involved in maritime territorial disputes with China, Aquino said the issue concerned the security of the region as a whole.

“We wish to emphasize, uphold and follow the rule of law in resolving these territorial issues so that the rights of all countries involved will be recognized and respected,” Aquino said before leaving for Myanmar.

“This step mirrors our belief that an issue that affects all countries in the region cannot be effectively resolved merely through a dialogue between two countries,” he added.
Aquino said the issue concerned the “security” of Southeast Asia.

China has rejected arbitration in the Philippines’ UN case, preferring to settle the issue through bilateral negotiations while insisting its sovereignty over these areas was “indisputable”.

The other Asean members are Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

The weekend summit in Naypyidaw follows a visit to Asia late last month by US President Barack Obama in which he restated support for Asian allies the Philippines and Japan, which is locked in its own maritime territorial dispute with China.

More than 5,000 US and Filipino troops are currently engaged in annual war games in the Philippines, with a focus on maritime security.



Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. Ricardo Atencia on

    ASEAN is in crisis! It has never been a united, as some countries are within the orbit of China, been receiving hefty assistance and would not even bother to express their displeasure or not even have the inkling to support members who are in contentious relation with China for fear of losing favor, retaliation and likely their future survival. ASEAN is under extreme test as a grouping where members could even claim that it is an economic grouping, not political one.

    Being silent (by some member countries) would only show to the world (and China especially) that this grouping is nothing but a group of inept, useless and self-serving and have not really put in their hearts and soul the meaning of what ASEAN stands for.

    This is sad!

  2. ASEAN ORGANIZTION must stand united on issues that will affect the whole region. Think of the people of the whole South East Asia, not only for today, but also for the generations to come. I do not need to remind you, that no one member of ASEAN can deal with the present predicament of the Philippines and Vietnam against China. China will less likely listen to any single country than the voice of all members of ASEAN for China to consider COC based on UNCLOS. You can derive your strength from being united than splintered. God bless, and good luck.

  3. ASEAN has to show solidarity in supporting Philippines and Vietnam on their claims of the islands which is also claim in whole by China otherwise it’s very existence has no value. Countries that remain silent or do not support members of the group are obviously on the side of China and should not be part of ASEAN. How can China which is more than 1000 kms away from the Spratley Islands lay claim to all of the islands and unilaterally drawn a 9 dash lines to most part of the South China Sea.
    I take pride to our President who remain vocal and oppose to China’s claim and has wisely raise the issue to UN.