BANGKOK - Southeast Asian leaders have called for “non-militarization” and “self-restraint” in the South China Sea to prevent the escalation of tension in the disputed waters.
This comes after concerns on land reclamations and activities in the area were again raised at the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand.
The 14-page ASEAN chairman’s statement that summed up the discussions at the summit did single out China, which made sweeping claims on the South China Sea and built structures on disputed reefs.
But it said that reclamation activities on the disputed waters are seen to have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.
“We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self- restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS,” ASEAN 2019 Summit Chairman, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in a statement.
“We emphasized the importance of non-militarisation and self- restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, including those mentioned in the DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea), that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea,” he added.
Leaders of the 10-nation ASEAN reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea, where around a third of the world’s trade passes through.
“We underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety,” the statement read.
ASEAN leaders expressed optimism that an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea will be concluded “early”.
“We warmly welcomed the continued improving cooperation between ASEAN and China,” the statement said.
“We welcomed efforts to complete the first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text by this year,” it added.
ASEAN leaders stressed the need to maintain an environment conducive to the COC negotiations, and welcomed practical measures that could reduce tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings and miscalculation.