The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has opened a regional meeting of foreign ministers with top diplomats from dozens of countries filling the new National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos for talks on security issues, including North Korea and the South China Sea.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is proud to be ASEAN’s partner “because you speak up for a rules-based international system that protects the rights of all nations, big or small.”
The meetings in Laos follow a recent ruling by the international court of arbitration that largely invalidated most of China’s claims in the South China Sea, leading to worries the decision could intensify tensions and lead to more Chinese military maneuvers.
In Beijing, White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice told Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi Monday that Washington will work with Beijing on issues and challenges “in candor and openness.”
South China Sea
In an official statement issued by the 10-member ASEAN bloc Monday, serious concerns were expressed over artificial land reclamations and escalations of activities in the South China Sea. It said actions in the region had “eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”
However, neither the recent Hague tribunal ruling or any single nation, including China, were mentioned.
A senior State Department official told reporters the U.S. will certainly be "an active editor" in the process of "helping the chair to develop a joint statement” coming out of the East Asia Summit ministerial and the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting scheduled to be held later this week.
The official, who did not wish to be identified, advocated to “put a little more value on the conversation that happens among the ministers themselves” than “in the often lengthy and torturous prose” pulled together afterwards.
In 2012, ASEAN leaders failed to produce a joint statement due to the objections of Cambodia, a close ally of China and host nation that year.Cambodia was blocking any joint statement this year that referred to the Hague ruling.
With ASEAN operating on a consensus principle that effectively gives each country a veto power when forming a stand on various issues, regional experts are skeptical of a joint communique that would put strong language on maritime disputes.
The United States signed the ASEAN-U.S. Strategic Partnership last November. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama hosted a summit with the Leaders from the ASEAN countries.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the dialogue relationship between China and ASEAN.
Earlier this month leaders from both sides exchanged congratulatory messages.
China, ASEAN's biggest trading partner, became ASEAN's dialogue partner in 1991. Both established a strategic partnership in 2003 and built the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area in 2010.