China’s weapon systems cause jitters at Asean over South China Sea dispute
Southeast Asian countries see China’s installation of weapon systems in the South China Sea as very unsettling and want to prevent militarisation and urge dialogue to stop “recent developments” from escalating, the Philippines said.
Foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) were unanimous in their concern about Beijing’s reclamation and militarisation of man-made islands, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said.
Yasay did not specify which developments provoked the concern, but said the bloc hoped China and the US would ensure peace and stability.
“The Asean members have been unanimous in their expression of concern about what they see as a militarisation of the region,” Yasay told reporters after a ministers’ retreat on the Philippine island of Boracay. The Philippines is chairman of the grouping this year and will host its annual meetings, some of which are joined by other powers, including China and the US.
“They have noticed, very unsettlingly, that China has installed weapons systems in these facilities that they have established, and they have expressed strong concern about this,” Yasay said, referring to artificial islands.
Friction between the US and China over trade and territory under United States President Donald Trump have fuelled worry that the South China Sea could become a flashpoint, with many Southeast Asian economies heavily dependent on both powers.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters, through which about US$5 trillion in trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also have claims.
China on Friday completed war games involving its aircraft carrier. The US navy on Saturday said its aircraft carrier strike group had begun routine patrols in the South China Sea.
Three days earlier China warned against that, following an incident in February when a US navy plane and a Chinese military aircraft came close to each other over the South China Sea.
Yasay said Asean nations recognised policies under Trump were still “evolving” but hoped he would unveil them within the next few months to provide a “more concrete and clearer picture”, especially regarding China.