Summit discusses maritime security issue

National 2 minutes, 23 seconds

SUNNYLANDS, USA

THE South China Sea dispute is unlikely to overshadow talks at the special summit between leaders of the United States and ASEAN with other shared interests demanding attention over escalating tension among claimants in the region.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes yesterday said maritime security will remain a key agenda, but no joint statement will be made focused primarily on competing claims. “On what we are trying to accomplish here, we do not expect and would not want this to be a forum for resolving or taking positions on individual claims. That is the position of the US, because we are not a claimant,” he said in a press briefing at Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage.

ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam have overlapping claims in the South China Sea with Beijing asserting ownership over nearly all of the resource-rich area.

While Rhodes does not expect ASEAN to take a collective position on a specific claim at the meeting, he said it is important to send a message in support of a rules-based order in the Asia Pacific to resolve disputes peacefully and avoid escalating tensions. “We have opposed militarisation of the South China Sea and steps that could escalate tensions, and in that regard promote the Code of Conduct with China,” he added.

He reiterated the US would push for shared principles such as freedom of navigation to support the free flow of commerce in sea lanes including the disputed South China Sea, which is home to some of the world’s strategically-vital shipping passages.

National Security Adviser Ambassador Susan Rice said any statements relating to the dispute at the standalone summit will focus on reinforcing these norms.

“It consistently underscores our shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of commerce and navigation, rule of law, and the necessity of disputes being resolved through peaceful legal means,” she said.

Rice said US will also continue to express its concerns to ASEAN about efforts to resolve disputes through other means.

“I am very confident that among other topics that will be discussed during (the two-day summit), this will be an important one, but by no means the only one. I am also confident our shared commitment to upholding these norms will be reinforced,” she said.

Meanwhile, Charles Salmon Jr, an adjunct senior fellow at the East-West Centre, rejected claims that the US is using the summit to counter Chinese influence over the Asia-Pacific.

“We are not in the business of containing China or some sort of balancing system that would contain China… The leaders are not going to Sunnylands to participate in a China-bashing session nor will they subscribe to any document (of that nature),” he said.

He believed the Special US-ASEAN Leaders Summit is an intensification of their strategic partnership in line with the US rebalance to Asia Pacific foreign policy.

The Brunei Times