Sunday, 20 Jun 2021

Asean, China pledge to exercise restraint in South China Sea, increase vaccine cooperation

BEIJING – Asean and China on Tuesday (June 8) pledged to exercise self-restraint to avoid actions that would “complicate or escalate” disputes in the South China Sea, while also committing to resuming negotiations on a code of conduct (COC) for the waterway.

In a statement released a day after a special meeting of Asean and China’s foreign ministers, the countries also pledged to strengthen public health cooperation, particular in the area of vaccines.

Diplomatic sources told The Straits Times that the delay in the statement stemmed from disagreements over the language surrounding the South China Sea, which along with the Myanmar crisis, dominated most of Monday afternoon’s discussions in the Chinese city of Chongqing.

“Enhance and promote maritime security, uphold the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” said the 14-paragraph statement.

The language was similar to that of previous statements between Asean and its dialogue partners.

The grouping is also planning to speed up resuming negotiations over the COC and the talks will be conducted virtually. Previously, negotiators had said the topic was too important for discussions to be conducted online, and talks came to a standstill after the coronavirus pandemic stopped air travel.

China has sweeping claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, but faces competing claims by Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Asean and China are also looking at increasing vaccine cooperation while working together on other areas like health development.

“Asean greatly appreciates China’s provision of vaccines, medical supplies and technical assistance to Asean and its member states,” the statement said, adding that close collaboration has helped in economic recovery from the pandemic.

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