Policy Alert: ASEAN Meetings Spark Reactions from Asian Powers
A series of ASEAN meetings including the 22nd ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) took place from August 1-6 in Kuala Lumpur. Concerns over territorial disputes in the South China Sea came under the spotlight at these meetings, with ASEAN’s foreign ministers struggling until the eleventh hour to issue a joint statement. In this Policy Alert, we examine reactions from China, Russia, India, Japan, and South Korea to last week’s ASEAN meetings.
Chinese media defended accusations by other nations regarding China’s land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.
- The China Daily wrote, “disputes should be directly resolved between China and claimant parties through peaceful negotiations, and any attempt to enlist support from outside forces or deviate from the disputes themselves will be counterproductive.”
- The Global Times accused Washington and Manila of conflating “all the issues related to the South China Sea and instigate ASEAN countries to confront China. They intend to isolate and embarrass China, rather than actually solve the problem.”
- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the Philippines and Japan for teaming up to attack China’s South China Sea policy. He stated, “First off, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable, and there is no possibility of a major clash…China opposes any non-constructive words and acts which widen division, exaggerate antagonism or create tensions.”
- Liu Zhenmin, Vice- Foreign Minister, added, “Sensitive subjects such as the South China Sea issues should be avoided in the discussions at multilateral forums, which are designed to promote international cooperation. Besides, non-ASEAN nations such as the US are not supposed to interfere, and will face strong opposition from China if they do.”
- Zhao Gancheng, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies commented, “Showing excessive zeal for sovereignty and territorial disputes, the US and the Philippines are diverting attention away from other important topics, such as the extensive cooperation between China and the ASEAN. The truth is, Beijing never shirks its responsibility to maintain stability in the South China Sea.”
- “Japan has been cooperating with the United States to hype up the ‘China threat‘, making noise for their alliance to interfere in the South China Sea,” Su Xiaohui, a senior researcher at the Foreign Ministry-backed China Institute of International Studies, wrote. “This is not beneficial to regional peace and stability.”
Russian commentary expressed hope for the continued growth in ASEAN-Russian relations.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov participated in the ASEAN-Russia Ministerial Meetings and the ASEAN Regional Forum in Kuala Lumpur. . Security-related matters, such as the dangers posed by ISIS and tensions in the Korean peninsula, featured prominently in theASEAN-Russia Ministerial Meetings.
- Lavrov also invited ASEAN countries to consider greater integration with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). “An agreement on a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEU) and Vietnam was signed in May,” Lavrov was cited by Russian news agency TASS as saying. “We’re ready to make it a pilot project for a general liberalization (of trade and investment) between the EAEU and ASEAN.”
- Sergei Luzyanin, acting head of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, argued that Russia needs to frame a concrete and clear policy when it comes to ASEAN. According to Luzyanin, Russia’s current economic ties with ASEAN are small, but growing. He added that countries from the grouping not only look at Russia as a source of oil and gas, but are interested in Russian high technologies, especially in civil nuclear, aviation and space.
- Timur Sadykov, political counsellor at the Russian embassy in Malaysia, said Moscow considers ASEAN a “very important partner in the region” and that “business communities from both sides should continue to further explore trade and economic potential.”
Indian officials affirmed India’s commitment to boost engagement with ASEAN.
- Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh echoed statements by the United States and several ASEAN countries against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, stating, “We share the concerns expressed by our ASEAN colleagues about the evolving situation in the South China Sea. Freedom of navigation in international waters including in the South China Sea, the right of passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources in accordance with the principles of international law… are issues of concern to us all.”
- Singh also stressed the importance of India-ASEAN relations. “India’s relationship with ASEAN is one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy and the foundation of our ‘Act East Policy’…Given the synergy and chemistry between India and ASEAN countries, I have no doubt that our relations are set to soar high and will quicken the realisation of an Asian century,” he said.
Japanese officials pressed China to cease its land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.
- Minoru Kiuchi, Senior Vice Foreign Minister, expressed serious concern over “unilateral attempts to change the status quo and heighten tensions through large-scale reclamation work in the South China Sea.”
- Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yu met on thesidelines of the ASEAN meetings on Thursday to lay the groundwork for a possible visit to China by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September.
- The Yomiuri Shumbun pressed for China to “fulfill its responsibility to ensure the region’s peace and stability” and argued that China is “responsible for the strained situation in the South China Sea… Japan, in cooperation with such countries as the United States and the Philippines, must press China repeatedly to help draw up an effective code of conduct as early as possible and suspend the projects to militarize the reefs in the South China Sea.”
South Korean media focused on the attendance of North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-young at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on Thursday.
- “NK diplomat steals spotlight in regional forum,” ran a Korea Times headline, noting that the ARF is the only meeting that involves all members of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program among the series of ASEAN-related ministerial meetings held last week.
- Ri Tong-il, a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry, spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the ARF on Thursday and warned that “If the U.S. continues to misuse [North Korea] as a pretext for strengthening military alliances, including a massive arms buildup, it will invite responsibility for leading to the outbreak of a second Korean War.”
- South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se urged Southeast Asian nations to take a firm stance against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in a meeting with his counterparts last Wednesday. Yun stressed the need for ASEAN to send a strong message to North Korea with one voice and requested ASEAN’s active cooperation, according to a press release issued by his ministry. The ASEAN ministers agreed, citing the need for North Korea to abide by the U.N. resolutions and a 2005 agreement signed within the framework of the six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear program, the ministry said.