ASEAN makes concession to China

Carlyle Thayer, an analyst at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia, said the document shows the Philippines abstained from referring to a United Nations-backed ruling on the South China Sea dispute, and that the waters are fast becoming "China's lake".

But the final version retained a reference to division among ASEAN leaders on how to deal with Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea.

An aversion to directly criticizing China has become mainstream Asean policy as some of the bloc's member states seek to improve ties with the country.

The leaders of ASEAN are due to meet in again in Manilla in November of this year. "But under the Philippine chairmanship, we have seen a lot of movements in the discussion and China has already made announcement that it's also supportive of having a framework of the COC", Patron said.

Responding to Phuc's request, Najib Razak said Malaysia will foster cooperation in halal food production and consider hiring more Vietnamese workers in areas where there is demand for such labour.

China, meanwhile, has reportedly been lobbying and using its friendship with Duterte to make him influence Asean to not take a stance against Beijing on the South China Sea while drafting a much-awaited code of conduct for the sea.

It also did not mention the abiding by "universally recognized principles of global law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea" that was in the draft statement.

References to China's "land reclamation and militarization" included in last year's statement were omitted.

Officials are optimistic that the framework of the code of conduct for South China Sea claimants would be completed during the Philippines' chairmanship of the ASEAN.

In the statement, the four ASEAN members, who the diplomats said had wanted a firmer position, had agreed to the more conciliatory tone in the statement.

This was according to the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after he told the media that he welcomes joint military exercise with President Xi Jinping.

He said previous year he would be "happy to slaughter" millions of addicts in his quest to stop the Philippines from becoming a narco-state, and repeatedly insisted human rights should not stand in the way of eradicating drugs.

Asked about possible joint exercises between the Philippines and China, Mr Duterte said: "Yes, I said I agree".

Patron's statement came after the official Asean chairman's message made no mention about the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration's decision on the resource-rich South China Sea, and China's continuing reclamation and militarization activities in the disputed island. But the arbitral [ruling], it's only between China and the Philippines.

The draft statement says the ASEAN leaders urged the grouping's "dialogue partners", which include the United States, "to honor the valued principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of ASEAN member states, including respect for the right of every member state to pursue its national interests free from external interference".

"We hope the parties concerned that are influential there can play a role so that North Korea does not cause excessive provocation that can cause any unwanted incidents later", he said.

  • Leroy Wright