In a major blow to China, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders have said that a 1982 UN oceans treaty should be the basis of sovereign rights and entitlements in the South China Sea. It is to be noted that China has been repeatedly claiming to the entire disputed South China Sea on historical grounds.
ASEAN leaders said in a statement that disputes in South China Sea should be resolved in line with the international law, stressing on “the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation”.
“Land reclamations, recent developments, activities & serious incidents have eroded trust & confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace , security & stability in the region,” noted the statement.
ASEAN leaders said in the statement that it was important to uphold the international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 and to resolve disputes peacefully. The statement was passed by the core member nations Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam.
“Further reaffirm the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation and over-flight above the South China Sea, as well as upholding international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, in the South China Sea, work actively towards the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety and the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), consistent with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS. Further stress on the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation. Pursue the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, while enhancing mutual trust and confidence,” read one paragraph of the ASEAN statement.
US Secreraty of State Mike Pompeo has welcomed the ASEAN statement. Pompeo tweeted that “China cannot be allowed to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.”