Dispute over South China Sea likely to dominate ASEAN summit

RSTV Bureau
Manila: From left, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and Laos' Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, join hands during a family photo before the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines on Monday Nov. 13, 2017. AP/PTI

Manila: From left, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and Laos’ Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, join hands during a family photo before the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines on Monday Nov. 13, 2017. AP/PTI

China’s controversial military buildup in the South China Sea likely to be a major issue at the ongoing ASEAN summit in Manila in Philippines.

A day ahead of the summit, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated Beijing’s long-held position that it wants to bilaterally resolve the dispute with its neighbours.

“China will work with the Philippines to continue to properly handle the maritime issues through friendly bilateral consultation by giving full play to such mechanisms as the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea,” Li wrote in an article published in leading newspapers Manila.

Li admitted that the bilateral relationship between China and the Philippines had “encountered a setback” due to the South China Sea issue but it was back on track due to appropriate handling of the issue by the two sides.

The Chinese premier also said Beijing would actively explore joint development of the South China sea to make it a “sea of cooperation and friendship” for the benefit of the two countries.

China claims sovereignty over all of South China Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons. However, several ASEAN member countries including Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei have counter claims.

India has been supporting freedom of navigation and access to resources in the South China Sea in accordance with principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The ASEAN has been pushing for a legally binding code of conduct for all stakeholders in the South China Sea but Beijing has opposed such a framework asserting it will resolve the dispute with respective countries under a bilateral mechanism.

The issue of South China Sea is said to have also figured in a meeting of officials from India, the US, Japan, and Australia under the proposed Quadrilateral coalition of the four countries.

(With inputs from agencies)