South China Sea Dispute: Asean Voice Drowned Out As Big Powers Pipe Up
VIENTIANE, Jul 29 – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reminded reporters gathered in Vientiane this week that the convention centre where Asean ministers were holding their annual meeting was built by his country.
“In 2012, Laos needed a place to hold the Asia-Europe Meeting summit,” he said during a press conference on Monday after attending a dialogue with his Asean counterparts. “In 10 months, we built this beautiful building.”
The Chinese imprint, already apparent at the start of this year’s Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, deepened with the launch of the ministers’ joint communique: it reiterated serious concern about the escalating South China Sea dispute, but made no mention of a July 12 arbitral tribunal ruling that invalidated China’s historical claims over most of the strategic waterway.
Major media outlets were quick to paint the outcome as a Chinese diplomatic victory. China, which has constructed artificial islands on contested reefs in the sea and built up its military presence there, has refused to recognise the ruling.
A few hours after the communique was released, United States Secretary of State John Kerry, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida tried to make up for Asean’s careful stance by issuing their own joint statement stressing respect for the arbitration ruling, which stems from a case initiated by the Philippines.
It overshadowed the muted voice of Asean’s member states, which had eked out a consensus from a seemingly intractable deadlock.
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