South China Sea dispute on Obama's ASEAN agenda

South China Sea dispute on Obama's ASEAN agenda

- In July, China's claims in the South China Sea have been deemed invalid by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, who stated that the country had no legal basis over the territory

- US President Barack Obama resuscitated the issue in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on Thursday evening, calling out the region's leaders to work together with him to 'lower tensions, promote diplomacy and regional stability'

- ASEAN leaders were able to talk to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who was willing to settle the disputes with the countries involved in the region

The territorial dispute on West Philippine Sea, otherwise known as the South China Sea, has not been put to rest yet  - US President Barack Obama revived this concern as one of his agendas yesterday at the ASEAN Summit.

"We will continue to work to ensure that disputes are resolved peacefully, including in the South China Sea," he started his opening remarks, addressed to the delegates of the 10-member coalition.

South China Sea dispute on Obama's ASEAN agenda

US President Barack Obama at the ASEAN Summit in Laos.

(photo credit:

In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague declared China's claims on the territory had no legal basis. The East Asian country insisted that its claim to the entirety, if not most, of South China Sea, was based on historical reasons.

READ ALSO: Obama desires better ties with PH, ASEAN countries

For Obama, the ruling was 'binding' and should have 'helped to clarify maritime rights in the region'.

Aside from violating the Philippines' right to fully utilize its waters' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), China has also built artificial islands out of the area's shoals and coral reefs that have been turned into military airstrips.

"I realize that this raises tensions but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and regional stability," Obama additionally stated.

READ ALSO: Japan provides Vietnam with patrol ships to aid in maritime law-enforcement efforts

Not only is the Philippines involved in the territorial dispute, but other ASEAN member-states as well - Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam - who also have claims in the area.

China has remained aggressive over its stance on the disputed area, despite the United States voicing out its concern over the Asian country's activities.

The two countries, along with the regional bloc and other world powers, had another summit on Thursday evening. However, before the closing of the summit, the ASEAN released a joint statement gently reprimanding China on its ongoing expansion in the territory.

READ ALSO: What to expect from Duterte during the ASEAN Summit 2016

The tone used in the statement further proves China has a strong diplomatic, economic, and military influence on its neighboring countries.

According to a senior Obama official, who wished to remain anonymous, the East Asian country offered a $600-million package aid to its ally, Cambodia. Despite China's efforts to curate their statement for the tribunal, omitting any references to land reclamation, militarization, or loss of trust, the ASEAN member state failed to do so in theirs.

"Several leaders remained seriously concerned over recent developments in the South China Sea … We stressed the importance for the parties concerned to resolve their disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international laws," was the statement of Cambodia, which has been able to omit China's land reclamation activities.

READ ALSO: OBAMA to speak with DUTERTE about several ISSUES during the ASEAN Summit

Last Tuesday, ASEAN leaders have already raised their concern on China's ongoing activities in the area, where they "took note of the concerns expressed by some leaders on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region."

China's allies, Cambodia and Laos, are not willing to rebuke China for its actions, but the regional bloc's talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang went without a hitch.

South China Sea dispute on Obama's ASEAN agenda

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang

(photo credit:

The country's foreign ministry released Li's paraphrased statement, saying that he was willing to work with Southeast Asian countries in 'dispelling interference . . . and properly handling the South China Sea issue.'

Observers have noted that the Chinese premier's rephrased account meant that they are open to negotiations only with countries within the region that are directly involved in the dispute, sounding off the United States into the matter.

READ ALSO: Duterte asks China to allow Pinoys to fish in the disputed waters


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