Vietnam takes on China for its expansionist policies in South China Sea

Donald Trump

Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) toughened their stance against land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea in the final Joint Communiqué released Sunday.

In his statement delivered during the plenary session, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano pointed out that the single characteristic that makes ASEAN unique and admirable is the ability to peacefully settle regional disputes and on regional cooperation which he described as "the best if not the surest means of achieving peace".

Vietnam is on its own to have stronger language on the South China Sea.

Foreign ministers in Manila over the weekend emphasized self-restraint in the South China Sea and reaffirmed their countries' commitment to a Code of Conduct in the region.

Vietnam was reportedly urging other Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansion in the South China Sea by making the framework on the code of conduct in the disputed territory legally binding.

Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including a cluster of islands, reefs and atolls further south called the Spratlys; ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims on the waters.

A half-century ago when ASEAN came into being, with just five members, now expanded to 10, China was enmeshed in the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong was still very much alive, the Gang of Four was asserting itself and the rise and rise of Deng Xiaoping was 11 years away.

Opposition by China has repeatedly disrupted Vietnam's efforts to exploit offshore energy reserves, most recently in an area overlapping what Beijing considers its oil concessions.

The South China Sea chapter in the latest draft communique, a negotiated text subject to changes, is a watered-down version of one issued in Laos a year ago.

The adoption of the COC framework is a historical event which demonstrated increased cooperation between ASEAN and China in resolving the dispute peacefully, said Phay Siphan, secretary of state and spokesman for the Council of Ministers of Cambodia.

The statement is a reference to Chinese structures over disputed islands, including Mischief Reef, which is contested by China and the Philippines, and Woody Island, which is contested by China and Vietnam.

The joint statement that was scheduled to be released after the ASEAN ministers was delayed because of the dispute over the wording on the sea issue, one diplomat told AFP.

"The leaders of ASEAN and China are expected to announce the formal start of negotiations on the code at their summit in November", Bolivar told reporters.

"There is no consensus yet", the diplomat said, adding the drafting committee was tasked with continuing the negotiations on Saturday night.

But security analysts point out that the framework comes 15 years after negotiations on the issue first began, and China has used that time to cement its claims with the artificial islands.

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