From 9-13 August 2012, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi embarked on a three-stop official visit to Southeast Asia. Mr. Yang’s visit brought him to Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. One of the foremost concerns of Mr. Yang’s visit was the South China Sea issue. Apart from the South China Sea issue, Mr. Yang also focused on fostering stronger bilateral relations with these countries.
During his first stop in Indonesia, Mr. Yang met Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Mr. Yang and Dr. Yudhoyono both agreed on the need for stronger bilateral relations and strategic cooperation. Mr. Yang also co-chaired the second meeting of the joint committee for bilateral cooperation with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. Before Mr. Yang’s visit to Indonesia, on the sidelines of a ceremony to mark the 45th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Mr. Natalegawa said that he hoped that apart from bilateral issues, he and Mr. Yang would be able to compare notes on the South China Sea issue. Mr. Natalegawa also added that a common approach to resolving the issue was needed, “otherwise, the risks of further tensions are very much ahead of us.”
During his visit to Brunei, Mr. Yang met Brunei’s Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah to discuss the strengthening on bilateral ties. Yang remarked that there has been “remarkable progress” in the relationship between Brunei and China, and also highlighted Brunei’s role in fostering greater relations between China and ASEAN. Mr. Yang also met with Brunei Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Lim Jock Seng and said that China and Brunei should maintain their progress on cooperation so as to enable greater regional peace, prosperity and development.
On his last stop, Mr. Yang met Malaysia Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, and they both agreed to strengthen bilateral ties and regional cooperation. Mr. Aman also reiterated the importance of diplomacy in resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea. However, Mr. Aman also added that ASEAN members have to come together to resolve their overlapping claims before talking to China. During his visit, Mr. Yang told reporters that he “firmly support[s]” ASEAN community building and that “we will continue to work together in cooperation and accommodating each other’s concerns and interests.”
According to SIIA Chairman Simon Tay, "The visit by the Chinese FM to a number of Asean states will not resolve the overlapping claims in the South China Sea with four of the group's members. But the visit visibly reinforced Beijing's commitment to supporting Asean as a central player in the region after concerns that Chinese interests were actively dividing the group."