Chinese diplomat tells Singapore to stay out of South China Sea disputes

Caution from vice-minister at Asean meeting comes as China and the bloc make progress on maritime code of conduct

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 11:37pm

A senior Chinese diplomat urged Singapore to stay out of South China Sea disputes at a meeting between China and the Asean bloc of countries.

The remark was made as China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations made progress on Tuesday towards adopting a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said after the meeting in Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia that China and Asean had agreed to release a joint statement on a Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES).

The South China Sea shadow over Beijing’s ties with Singapore

However, in a veiled criticism of Singapore’s stance on the disputes, Liu said China hoped the city state would perform well in its role of coordinating dialogue between China and Asean.

“As Singapore is not a claimant in the South China Sea, we hope that the Singapore government, on the condition of not interfering in South China Sea issues, will actively promote cooperation between China and Asean,” Liu said.

Also speaking at the same press conference, Chee Wee ­Kiong, permanent secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called on all parties to exercise self-restraint as tensions rose in the South China Sea.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said during a visit to the US earlier this month that the South China Sea ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration was much better than seeing “whose guns are more powerful”. He also said that Singapore welcomed US engagement in the region.

Liu said China and Asean had also agreed in principle to set up a hotline among Chinese and Southeast Asian senior officials to manage maritime emergencies in the South China Sea.

Ashley Townshend, a research fellow at the University of Sydney, said that while the agreement reached yesterday was a welcome development, China and Asean still had to do more work in specific areas to address the South China Sea disputes.

“Adopting the CUES between the navies is not enough, it should also be applied to the coastguards,” Townshend said.

Coastguard vessels in South China Sea need code of conduct amid increasing risk of clashes in contested waters, say analysts

He added that while Singapore was getting firmer about favouring a rules-based solution in the South China Sea, it also had to balance its economic ties with China and its strategic interests in the disputed waters.

“Singapore is not a claimant country, but it has a deep interest in maritime trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” he said.

Townshend also noted that China had concerns about Singapore getting too close to the United States, and said the city state faced a challenge in navigating the Sino-US strategic rivalry in the region.