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Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed on a six-point statement concerning the group’s position on the South China Sea following the Indonesian foreign minister’s efforts to lobby his counterparts, a statement has said.
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa’s bid to reduce tension among states in the region has apparently succeeded, with all ministers giving their approval to the six principles of “ASEAN’s Common Position” on the South China Sea.
One principle is that ASEAN countries should remain committed to the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) in the South China Sea, signed by disputing nations in November 2002, as well as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Cambodia, as ASEAN chair, officially announced the statement on Friday.
Earlier this month, the 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Phnom Penh saw its customary communiqué aborted for the first time since the group was founded in 1967, due to the failure to reach a consensus on the South China Sea issue.
Marty volunteered as a troubleshooter, despite Indonesia’s no longer being ASEAN chair, and embarked on 36 hours of shuttle diplomacy around disputing ASEAN countries last week.
During the trip, Marty spoke with counterparts in Manila, the Philippines; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Marty also spoke with other ASEAN foreign ministers by telephone and got positive responses.
Although the principles omit the most contentious South China Sea issue which has left ASEAN’s 10 members locked in dispute since the last ministerial meeting, many have praised them as a significant step forward.
The government of the Philippines, one of those involved in heated debates at the AMM, welcomed Marty’s efforts, saying it was elated by the six-point joint statement.
“This is a real step forward from the last AMM in Cambodia,” Philippine presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in an interview quoted on http://president.gov.ph.
With regard to criticism of the Philippines and Vietnam for delaying the ASEAN statement, Lacierda said neither country should take the blame for what transpired at the AMM.
The Singaporean government, on its foreign affairs ministry’s website, http://www.mfa.gov.sg, stated, “Singapore welcomes the release of the six principles. This is the result of the unceasing efforts of Indonesia. It helps to restore ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture.”
“Singapore and other like-minded member states tried very hard to negotiate a consensus during the 45th AMM. We are glad that a week later, there is a new consensus and the statement has been issued. Some of the proposals put forward last week during the AMM, and supported by several ASEAN member states, were broadly similar to the statement which has been accepted by all ASEAN member states,” the announcement read.
Marty’s effort has received a positive response from other officials in the region.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, met Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario in Manila, two days after the latter’s meeting with Marty.
“[The Philippines] stated support for Cambodia, as ASEAN chairman, in issuing the statement which was an initiative by Indonesia. They also noted that the statement was general, without touching on any specific elements, on ASEAN’s stand on the South China Sea issue,” a Malaysian foreign affairs ministry statement said, as quoted by Bernama news agency.
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said they had notified all ASEAN foreign ministers of the six principles and received positive responses.
“They agreed on these principles on the South China Sea,” he said as quoted by Reuters.
In a press conference on Friday, however, Namhong expressed that the agreement on the six points showed that “Cambodia is not at fault at all.”
“Why the AMM was unable to issue a joint communiqué on these six points which were all raised by me? Why did two countries keep opposing? Probably, there was a plan behind the scenes against Cambodia,” he said.
China, accused of using Cambodia as its proxy in the AMM, responded to the principles by saying that it values its relationship with ASEAN and is willing to work with the group to implement the DOC.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, as quoted by Xinhua news agency, “China is open to consultations with the ASEAN on the conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.”