Tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea threaten to overshadow the ASEAN Regional Forum being held in Bali this week.
The ASEAN foreign ministers released a statement Tuesday stating: “We discussed in depth the recent developments in the South China Sea and expressed serious concern over the recent incidents.” The ministers called on all claimants to exercise “self restraint.”
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed dismay regarding the slow pace of the talks, challenging the foreign ministers to “send a strong signal to the world that the future of the South China Sea is a predictable, manageable and optimistic one.”
Report & Analysis: ‘Serious concern’ as South China Sea tensions rise [AFP, 19 Jul 2011]
The President advocated the implementation of the guidelines on Declaration of Conduct (DOC) on the South China Sea, which was adopted in 1992. The guidelines will demarcate disputed areas from non-disputed areas, which China opposes, as this would contest its claim that it has rights over the whole region.
Report & Analysis: Indonesia’s Yudhoyono urges ASEAN to set guidelines on Spratlys [GMA News, 19 Jul 2011]
“Things do not necessarily have to be this slow,” Yudhoyono continued, “we need to finalise those long overdue guidelines because we need to get moving to the next phase.”
While talks continue, five Philippine congressmen will visit the disputed Spratly islands Wednesday. The trip is not officially supported by the Philippine government and Congressman Walden Bello has said that it is a private trip “to meet residents and soldiers” stationed in Pagasa, the largest of the island chain under Philippine control. Mr. Bello urged the Chinese embassy not to worry, saying that “we have every right as Filipino citizens to visit Philippine territory.”
In response, the Chinese embassy in the Philippines warned that the plans could damage bilateral ties, saying that they serve “no purpose but to undermine peace and stability in the region and sabotage the China-Philippines relationship.”
Report & Analysis: Philippine MPs to visit disputed Spratly islands [BBC, 19 Jul 2011]
Two US senators have warned China about its recent military actions in the South China Sea could “jeopardize US national interests” in the region. US Senators John Kerry and John McCain issued the warning in a letter to China’s Foreign Minister, Dai Bingguo, ahead of the ASEAN Regional Forum. The move is sure to draw a negative response from Beijing, which sees US interference in the region as an unnecessary provocation.
Report & Analysis: US Senators warn Beijing on South China Sea [FT, 19 Jul 2011]
Additionally, Yudhoyono expressed his support for the creation of an ASEAN blogger community, to promote greater interconnectedness between ASEAN’s nearly 600 million people. He urged ASEAN to “get into the act” and use technology to “promote people-to-people contact.”
Report & Analysis: Indonesia urges ASEAN to harness Twitter, Facebook [AFP, 19 Jul 2011]