South China Sea tensions to dominate Sino-Asean talks in Singapore

Two-day event marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the dialogue and comes ahead of The Hague’s ruling on territorial disputes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2016, 9:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 April, 2016, 12:04am

Senior officials of China and Southeast Asian nations are gathering for two-day talks, amid Beijing’s strengthening efforts to lure support from its neighbours ahead of an international court ruling over the South China Sea disputes.

Just weeks before an international court ruling on territorial disputes over the sea, senior diplomats from China and 10 nations from the Association of Southeast Asian nations (Asean) will meet in Singapore – an event that will mark the 25th anniversary of the start of the Sino-Asean dialogue

Obama and Asean leaders say South China Sea disputes must be resolved under UN rules

This event is jointly chaired by China’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Liu Zhenmin, and the Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Chee Wee Kiong.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday that apart from making preparations for a Sino-Asean summit in September, the consultation was also aimed at implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed between Asean and China in 2002.

Four Asean members – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – have rival claims to parts of the sea with China.

The Philippines has taken a case against China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The court’s ruling, due in late May or early June, is expected to go against China.

Beijing has intensified its efforts to seek allies to contest the ruling and claimed over the past week that Brunei, Cambodia and Laos had backed its stance on the dispute.

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However, Beijing’s move has been criticised by several Asean diplomats, who accused China of meddling in Asean’s internal affairs and trying to divide the grouping, according to Singapore’s The Straits Times.

An Asean diplomat said of the meeting on the bid to have a code of conduct: “Not much can be expected out of this. Progress will be achieved at a glacial pace as China will try and manipulate Asean into acquiescence of its stance.”

China has been targeted by the US-led concerted efforts surrounding the South China Sea disputes and Beijing has every reason to fight back
Wang Hanling, expert from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Wang Hanling, an expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the allegations as well as the arbitration case were biased against China. “China has been targeted by the US-led concerted efforts surrounding the South China Sea disputes and Beijing has every reason to fight back,” he said.

Three Asean nations agree row will not hurt ties: Beijing

He said three Asean nations’ endorsement of China’s stance in the maritime dispute was of “extraordinary significance” ahead of the ruling.

Pang Zhongying, of Renmin University of China, also said Beijing’s moves laid bare the fact that there were disagreements among Asean nations on the dispute. But he voiced concerns over the escalating war of words over the dispute, saying it could further strain the Sino-Asean ties.