China has reached an agreement with Brunei, Cambodia and Laos that the South China Sea dispute “should not affect relations” with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday.
Wang was quoted as telling a news conference in the Lao capital of Vientiane that the four countries had reached a “consensus” on the South China Sea issue.
According to a report carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, the four countries agreed that states must be able to determine their own ways of solving disputes under international law and opposed attempts to “unilaterally impose an agenda on other countries.”
The four also agreed that territorial and maritime disputes should be resolved through consultations and negotiations by “directly concerned parties” under ASEAN’s 2012 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
Beijing lays claim to most of the waters and the dispute has proven divisive for the 10-member ASEAN grouping. Four ASEAN members — Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines — have claims in the area. Taiwan is the other claimant.
ASEAN nations has struggled to balance economics — China is the biggest trading partner for many — with Beijing’s increasingly assertive moves, including its island-building program in the contested waters.
China has routinely sought to prevent the grouping from discussing the issue, saying disputes must be solved bilaterally.
In February, ASEAN foreign ministers issued a rare criticism of China’s moves, saying they were “seriously concerned” over the activities that “have eroded trust and confidence” and “increased tensions” in the area.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also voiced concern over the issue at a November ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur.
“There is an ongoing large-scale and rapid reclamation project aimed at creating a base for military purposes” in the waters, Abe said after the summit. “I am seriously concerned about the move to change the status quo.”