Asean nations 'seriously concerned' by increased South China Sea tensions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 4:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 8:45am

Southeast Asian countries yesterday expressed concerns over "increased tensions" in the South China Sea and called for an early conclusion to the code-of-conduct talks with China.

Yet there was no specific mention of China in the final statement after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting. The 10 nations also did not accept a demand by the United States and Philippines for a freeze on activities - include seizing unoccupied islands and land reclamation - that would jeopardise the status quo.

Chinese analysts called the outcome "better than expected".

The Asean forum said in its final statement: "We remained seriously concerned over recent developments which had increased tensions in the South China Sea." All parties involved should "exercise restraint" and "settle disputes through peaceful means", it said.

The Asean Regional Forum brings together 27 nations including the US, China, Russia, Japan, India and Australia.

Watch: Sea row overshadows talks between China, Southeast Asia

"The neutral statement shows the strategic concerns of Asean over China's aggressive role in territorial disputes in the South China Sea," said Lian Degui , a researcher with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

"But at the same time it shows Asean wants to remain amicable with China as they have broad and close economic ties."

Zhang Jie, a regional security expert at the National Institute of International Strategy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Asean members had hardened their stance on the South China Sea recently.

"Still, they didn't mention China, nor issue a separate statement more specific or even critical [of China]; I think it is not a small achievement for China's diplomacy," Zhang said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was not enough to simply continue working on a long-delayed binding code of conduct for the South China Sea. "Obvious dangers arise during waiting time," he said. "The claimants need to take steps now to lower the temperature."

A Xinhua commentary said Kerry's call to "freeze" activities in disputed territories was "counterproductive".

Reuters, Bloomberg and Associated Press