China's Pact with Laos, Cambodia on South China Sea Dispute is an Intrusion Into ASEAN Internal Affairs--Former ASEAN Official
A former high-ranking official of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) accused Cambodia and Laos of interfering in domestic affairs of the organization. The two countries made a pact with China on how to settle its disputes with claimant-countries in the South China Sea.
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Former ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, who spoke at the ASEAN Community forum in Jakarta on Monday, said he was surprised that Cambodia and Laos both entered into an agreement with China despite the former's non-claimant status in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
Ong said the two non-ASEAN claimant states' covenant with China amounted to an interference with the internal affairs of the ASEAN group, especially after making it appear that the pact was made in the name of the entire organization.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced on Saturday that it has reached a four-point agreement with Laos, Cambodia, and Brunei in dealing with the South China Sea dispute.
Under the four-point consensus, the four countries agreed that the South China Sea territorial disputes were "not an issue between China and the ASEAN as a whole."
Only four ASEAN countries--Vietnam, Brunei, Philippines, and Malaysia--have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea with China.
"It has always been in the parameter of the ASEAN-China declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea," Ong said.
"So, for this kind of announcement that two of the non-ASEAN claimant states have said certain things about ASEAN's position, I think it's very surprising," he added.
Ong said that over the years, ASEAN member-states have agreed that the disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved bilaterally with China.
"China-Philippines, China-Brunei, China-Vietnam and so on and so forth but since Laos is the chairman this year, maybe it has decided to say something in behalf of the group," he emphasized.
For Ong, although disputes between rival claims with China should be resolved bilaterally, the organization has always taken the position that ASEAN and China must be involved in it and manage it to prevent further escalation of conflicts in the region.
ASEAN's Secretary-General Le Luong Minh said that although ASEAN claimant-countries in the South China Sea may take their case with China bilaterally, it is also allowed that several countries may engage China as a group in resolving the dispute.
"An ASEAN country cannot negotiate with China on disputes that involve also other ASEAN countries," said Le Luong.
Le has reiterated that ASEAN member-states should come together and stick to its common position on the South China Sea dispute contained in an agreement which was adopted in 2012.
The ASEAN official said member-states should continue to uphold ASEAN's six-point principles which include maintaining a regional code of conduct in the disputed waters and the exercise of self-restraint by claimant-states.
Ten countries comprise the ASEAN which include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.