Southeast Asian talks fail over China disputeAgence France-Presse . Phnom Penh
Days of heated diplomacy at Southeast Asian talks ended in failure Friday as deep splits over China prevented the ASEAN grouping from issuing its customary joint statement for the first time.
Foreign ministers from the 10-member bloc have been wrangling since Monday to hammer out a diplomatic communique, which has held up progress on a separate code of conduct aimed at soothing tension in the flashpoint South China Sea.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims in the area.
The long-stalled code of conduct, strongly supported by the United States, is seen as a way of reducing the chances of a spat over fishing, shipping rights or oil and gas exploration tipping into an armed conflict.
The Philippines lambasted the failure at the end of the talks on Friday, saying ‘it deplores the non-issuance of a joint communique... which was unprecedented in ASEAN’s 45-year existence’.
It had insisted ASEAN refer to an armed stand-off with China last month over a rocky outcrop known as the Scarborough Shoal, but Cambodia — a Beijing ally and chair of the meeting — resisted.
Taking ‘strong exception’ to Cambodia, the Philippine statement said divisions undercut ASEAN’s goal of tackling disputes as a bloc ‘and not in a bilateral fashion—the approach which its northern neighbour (China) has been insisting on’.
The Philippines and the United States called this week for a unified ASEAN that could use its collective clout to negotiate with China, while Beijing prefers to deal with its smaller neighbours individually.
Diplomatic sources, speaking anonymously to AFP, referred to angry exchanges during behind-the-scenes talks, with an emergency meeting called for early Friday morning also failing to break the deadlock.
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