Obama tells ASEAN S. China Sea ruling eases tension, builds stability

VIENTIANE — US President Barack Obama told his Southeast Asian counterparts on Thursday that last July’s arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s claims to most of the South China Sea has “helped ease tension” and “built stability” in the region.

Obama spoke of the ruling, according to Thai government spokesman Werachon Sukhondhapatipak, at a summit with leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at which he also said the maritime disputes should be resolved peacefully through diplomacy.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, Obama said he looked forward to discussing with the ASEAN leaders how they can “constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and regional stability” following the ruling.

According to a joint statement issued at the end of the 11-nation summit, ASEAN and the United States “underlined the importance of maintaining peace, stability, safety, security, freedom of navigation and over-flight above the South China Sea”.

They also underscored “the importance of exercising self-restraint in the conduct of the activities, and for the states concerned to resolve disputes through peaceful means in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

The leaders stressed the need for ASEAN members and China to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, signed by the grouping and China in 2002, in its entirety.

They also need to “work expeditiously” toward the early conclusion of an effective, legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea”.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued a ruling on July 12, invalidating China’s “nine-dash line”, through which Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea. China has rejected the ruling.

The Philippines filed the arbitration case against China in January 2013 to seek clarification of its maritime entitlements in the South China Sea under the 1982 convention, following China’s aggressive assertion of its claims there. Both the Philippines and China are signatories to the convention.

Three other ASEAN member states — Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei — and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

Other ASEAN members include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

Also wishing to strengthen US ties with the regional grouping in areas such as technology and innovation that would help facilitate economic growth, Obama “expressed his supportive stance over TPP talks in the region,” Werachon said, referring to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement signed by 12 countries, including Japan but not China.

The United States was ASEAN’s fourth largest trading partner last year, with total two-way trade at USD212.8 billion and direct investment flow from the United States to ASEAN at USD12.2 billion, making it ASEAN’s third largest source of investment. PNA/Kyodo/northboundasia.com