In addition to discussing the ASEAN community starting up late this year and the progress of the ASEAN community’s post-2015 Vision, the ministers exchange views on regional and global issues, including the East Sea issue.
Foreign ministers from ASEAN members and partners and dialogue partners are attending AMM-48 and related meetings. Although the East Sea issue is not on the agenda, it surely will dominate the meeting because of escalating tension due to overlapping sovereignty claims in the oil-rich region.
The East Sea issue
Prior to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, the East Sea issue has been a highlight topic on international media because of declarations and announcements by high-ranking leaders and analysts.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said the East Sea issue will be a key topic because many countries are concerned over emerging security challenges in the region, particularly the safety and freedom of navigation in the East Sea. He said new developments in the East Sea, specifically China’s illegal construction of artificial islands, has intensified tension and eroded trust.
Spokesman for the Philippine’s armed forces Restituto Padilla called on ASEAN countries to unite and raise a common voice to stop China’s illegal activities and provocation in the East Sea.
American diplomats said ASEAN and the US are deeply concerned over the progress, scale, and purpose of China’s island reclamation in the East Sea. AMM-48 will be an opportunity for ASEAN countries to express their views directly to China.
Rejecting this viewpoint, China has said ASEAN is not the place to discuss the East Sea issue. Speaking to the press in Kuala Lumpur, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said the annual meeting between ASEAN and its partners focuses on cooperation in various sectors, not the East Sea issue. China has strongly rejected other countries’ intervention in the East Sea.
Seeking a solution to the East Sea issue
Disputes in the East Sea have worsened in recent years. Last July China deployed the oil platform Haiyang 981 in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. The event drew protests from nearby countries as well as from the US, Japan, and most ASEAN partners.
The Philippines has taken China’s violation of its sovereignty over the ScarboroughShoal to the Arbitral Tribunal. Meanwhile, Vietnam and other ASEAN countries have pushed for a prompt signing of the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) which has been delayed for years.
In July ASEAN and China agreed to open an emergency hotline for territorial disputes in the East Sea. Both sides agreed to continue working on the COC including the framework, structure, and associated obstacles.
Analysts say the hotline is a positive move toward restraint in the East Sea, but a COC is the final goal. While implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea and moving towards the signing of the COC, countries must halt all provocative actions and prove their maritime sovereignty under international law. As an open cooperative mechanism, ASEAN has become an important player in ensuring regional peace and security. The public is hoping AMM-48 will find some consensus in resolving the East Sea issue.