China on Monday said it is cooperating well with Asean countries on ensuring stability in the South China Sea, despite concerns by the United States.
Chinese state councillor and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe raised the issue during his speech at the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM) in Bangkok.
“As for the South China Sea, China and Asean countries have been adhering to the dual-track approach and maintaining friendly consultations to strengthen mutual trust, enhance cooperation and manage differences,” he noted. “We have implemented the DOC [Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea] in a comprehensive and effective manner and actively advanced the consultations on a COC [Code of Conduct in the South China Sea],” he said. “Therefore, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and improving.”
China and a handful of Asean countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, have conflicting claims on the South China Sea. The COC is to ensure the territorial dispute with China will not lead to war.
However, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper remarked at the meeting that the United States believes that no one country can or should dominate the Indo-Pacific.
“In this context, the United States remains deeply concerned about the situation in the South China Sea,” he noted. “Our position is simple and rooted in international law [that] the rights of all nations, regardless of size, power and military capability must be respected.”
Mr Esper said the United States rejects expansive and unlawful maritime claims inconsistent with the 1982 United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea and firmly opposes China’s use of coercion to assert such claims.
“Maritime claims in the South China Sea need to be based on the principles enshrined and [unclaused]. The United States takes no position on the sovereignty of disputed features but we reject claims that have no legal or historical merit,” he noted.
During the meeting, Defence Minister General Tea Banh commended the tireless efforts of dialogue partners in helping to build a resilient regional capability to counter maritime security challenges.
“We have many mechanisms to cooperate and work together to resolve common security challenges,” he noted.
Gen Banh said Asean-China and Asean-US maritime exercises indicate a genuine commitment by friends to join with Asean in addressing regional maritime security challenges.
“These exercises do not only help us to enhance our capabilities to counter maritime security threats but also enable us to strengthen trust and confidence with one another,” he noted. “The continuing efforts in keeping security and political stability is the key factor to ensure social development and economic growth.”
Gen Banh added that based on the Kingdom’s experience throughout the last two decades, the protection of peace is bringing fruitful results for all Cambodians and bringing further development and harmony.
Chheang Vannarith, Asian Vision Institute president, yesterday said via email that the South China Sea is a contest ground in a geopolitical game between China and the US.
“The disagreement between these two powers will continue and perhaps escalate into more tensions in the future,” he said, noting that Asean has limited leverage in managing the rivalry between the two powers.