ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (AMM) on May 10 in Myanmar issued their first stand-alone statement on the East Sea in years, expressing, inter alia, their serious concerns over the on-going developments in the South China Sea (East Sea), which have increased tensions in the area; urged all parties concerned, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions which could undermine peace and stability in the area; and to resolve disputes by peaceful means without resorting to threat or use of force.
In the Chairman’s Statement of the 24th ASEAN Summit on May 11, 2014, “expressed serious concerns over the on-going development in the South China Sea. We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability, maritime security, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea. We called on all parties to the DOC to undertake full and effective implementation of the DOC in its entirety in order to create an environment of mutual trust and confidence; to exercise self-restraint, not to resort to threat or use of force, and to resolve disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). We emphasized the need for expeditiously working towards an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). In this regard, we noted the importance of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Statement on the current developments in the South China Sea issued on 10th May 2014 at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.”
On 16th May 2014, Indonesia Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the following statement:
Indonesia has been following with deep and profound concern [over] recent developments in the South China Sea, in particularly that involves relations between the People’s Republic of China and Viet Nam. Indonesia is particularly concerned by the real risk of major escalation and miscalculation posed by the dangerous maneuvers by ships and naval vessels at sea which have caused injuries and material damage… One again, Indonesia calls on both sides to exert maximum restraint, respect the commitments as reflected in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and avoid measures that further add to tensions and risk serious escalation. If further urgently calls on both sides to establish communication to stablise the situation, including through the activation o the previously agreed hotline of communication. “There’s only option in front of us: a peaceful settlement of disputes,” asserted the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, Dr. R.M. Marty Natalegawa. “The use of force, violations of international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the DOC have no place in our region today,” he added. “Indonesia has been in active communication with all sides. We will be relentless in urging for communication and mutual restraint,” he stated.
On 20 May 2014, Wall Street Journal quoted the Foreign Minister of Indonesia as saying:
It’s both a bilateral and a regional issue, and ASEAN has a special responsibility to ensure that the conditions are right for the two sides to talks. By not doing anything, we are actually doing something by making it worse. In this case, ASEAN’s state of mind, in terms of rallying around Viet Nam in this situation, was instant and immediate. There is almost an attempt to deny there is an issue in the first place; the acknowledgement of dispute is what is now being tested. China must deliver on its often-stated commitment to implement the DOC. It’s clear as daylight about the need to exercise restraint…
On 26 May, in his interview with the Financial Times, Benigno Aquino, President of the Philippines, has warned that Beijing may seek to repeat its tactic of exploring for oil in disputed areas of the South China Sea, this time in waters close to its coastline. Mr Aquino said China was playing a “dangerous game of brinkmanship and gunboat diplomacy” that could spiral out of control. The president added he had received reports about the recent intrusion by a Chinese research ship near the Philippine oilfield of Galoc about 60 miles off the coast of the island province of Palawan. “Normally what happens to Viet Nam eventually happens to the Philippines,” he said, referring to what he depicted as a pattern of escalation by Beijing against several countries with which it has territorial disputes.
Singapore Foreign Minister on 12 May 2014 said “ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued a statement. We do not want tension. We want a code of conduct to be progressed with. We need a situation where parties resolve their disputes and differences in a way that’s acceptable to all.”
On 7 May 2014, in response to media queries on reports of several incidents in the East Sea, in particular collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, the Singapore MFA Spokesman said: “Singapore is concerned about recent developments in the South China Sea. We call on all parties to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions that could escalate tensions in the South China Sea. We urged all parties to fully abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and manage disputes peacefully in accordance with international, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). We also continue to urge ASEAN and China to work towards an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
The United Nations
On 19 May 2014, with the reference to maritime tension in Asia, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged that “we must never forget that all tensions are best resolved through dialogue and in accordance with the principles enshrined in the UN Charter.”
On 9 May, in response to a question on the situation in the East Sea, the Deputy Spokesman of the Secretary-General said that the Secretary-General has noted with concern the escalating tensions in the South China Sea, in particular between China and Viet Nam in the last few days. He urges the parties concerned to exercise the utmost restraint and resolve their dispute in a peaceful manner, through dialogue and in conformity with international law, including the UN Charter.
On 14 May 2014, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released the following statement:
Australia welcomes statements issued in the context of the ASEAN Summit on 10-11 May, regarding the situation in the South China Sea. We share the serious concerns expressed by ASEAN over recent developments which have served to raise tensions in the region. Australia does not take a position on competing claims in the South China Sea, but has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation. Australia urges parties to exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions that could escalate the situation and take steps to ease tensions. We call on governments to clarify and pursue territorial claims and accompanying maritime rights in accordance with international law, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). We encourage China and ASEAN member countries to make early progress on a substantive code of conduct for the South China Sea.
Foreign Minister John Baird of Canada on 19 May 2014 issued the following statement:
“Canada is concerned by the recent rise in tensions between Viet Nam and China in the South China Sea, which have the potential to undermine regional peace and stability. In particular, we are concerned by dangerous conduct at sea and intimidation of vessels and by recent mainland events that have resulted in the vandalization of private property. Canada encourages both parties concerned to seek an amicable resolution of disputes, in accordance with international law, and to avoid undertaking any confrontational or intimidating actions that would further escalate tensions in the region. We are concerned by actions that may jeopardize freedom of navigation, international trade and maritime security. We welcome the statement issued at the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit on May 11, 2014, and support the dialogue between ASEAN members and China to develop a Code of Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea. We would view favorably any efforts agreed to by the parties concerned toward a peaceful resolution of disputes in this region.”
The European Union
On 8 May 2014, the Spokesperson of the UN High Representative for external affairs on released a statement on East Sea tensions that “we are concerned about recent incidents involving China and Viet Nam relating to the movements of the Chinese oil rig HD981. In particular, the EU is concerned that unilateral actions could affect the security environment in the region, as evidenced by reports about the recent collision of Vietnamese and Chinese vessels. We urge all parties concerned to seek peaceful and cooperative solutions in accordance with international law, in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to continue ensuring safety and freedom of navigation. We also call on the parties to undertake de-escalating measures and refrain from any unilateral action which would be detrimental to peace and stability in the region. The EU will keep following these developments closely.”
On 14 May 2014, the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs said:
France is concerned by recent incidents and tensions occurred in the South China Sea. It calls on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and to settle disputes peacefully and through dialogue.
On 9 May 2014, in response to a media query on the East Sea, the Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said:
“We have been following with concern recent developments in the South China Sea. We believe that maintenance of peace, stability, growth and prosperity in the region is of vital interest to the international community. We would like to see resolution of the issue through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law. In this context, we also maintain that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea should not be impeded and call for cooperation in ensuring security of sea-lanes and strengthening of maritime security.”
On 9 May, Japan Foreign Minister replied to media questions that “where the collisions between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels are concerned, I am currently in the process of confirming the facts, but there are reports that a large number of vessels have been damaged and that casualties have occurred, so I am extremely concerned and paying close attention to the situation. Tensions in the region have increased as a result of China unilaterally commencing excavation in an area of ocean with undefined borders, which I am deeply worried about. Furthermore, this situation can be viewed as one step in a series of unilateral and provocative maritime advances by China. I believe the Chinese side should elucidate the basis for and the details of its activities to the Vietnamese side and the international community. The peace and stability of the South China Sea is a matter of concern of the international community. I believe this is a problem that should be resolved peacefully through dialogue. Furthermore, the relevant countries are moving to create a code of conduct in connection with the South China Sea, and I by all means want to call on the countries concerned to refrain from unilateral actions such as this that heighten tension, respect international law and behave with self-restraint.”
On 9 May 2014, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was quoted as saying to reporters in Tokyo that “peace and stability in the South China Sea is a matter of great concern to the international community. The Government hopes that this matter will be resolved peacefully through dialogue. This is the consistent view of the Government. Therefore, Japan is currently dealing with this matter while engaging in diplomatic cooperation with the relevant countries.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on 28 May 2014 told Japanese parliament that he is concerned that China’s increased military budget (almost 4 times in the last 10 years) would increase the possibility of China using force in the disputed South China Sea – something he warned China against. “China is looking to change the status quo in the South China Sea through the use of force. We will work with ASEAN countries to assert that the rule of law should be respected,” he said.
On 27 May 2014, Japanese Minister of Defense referred to China’s sinking Vietnamese boat that “you [reporter] are referring to an incident in which many Chinese fishing boat encircled Vietnamese fishing boats, and then a Chinese boat hit and sank a Vietnamese boat. Given that this incident occurred in the presence of Chinese government ships in the vicinity, I view this incident as an extremely serious issue. It is unthinkable for fishermen to offensively collide with each other since under normal circumstances they go out to sea for fishing. It is important for the international community including the Vietnamese authorities to investigate the motive behind the Chinese fishermen for colliding their boat with the Vietnamese fishing boat and all the facts related to the incident.”
The Russian Federation
On 15 May 2014, the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation said:
We are following the situation in the South China Sea closely, including with regard to the aspects you have mentioned. We expect that the parties involved in the territorial dispute will show restraint and will be able to overcome their disagreements through negotiations.”
On 10 May, the UK Foreign Office Minister of State commented on recent incidents in the East Sea that “the installation of a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters this week has led to increased tensions in the South China Sea. The UK supports the EU statement issued on 8 May, and has raised the issue with the Chinese government at Ministerial level. We urged all parties to exercise restraint and seek to de-escalate the situation.”
The United States:
On 15 May, AP quoted the White House saying that in meeting with China’s PLA Chief of Staff, the US Vice President conveyed America’s objections about China’s behavior in a territorial dispute with Viet Nam; the US was seriously concerned about China’s unilateral actions; the US doesn’t take a side in the territorial confrontation between the two countries over an area in the South China Sea; but no nation should take provocative steps in the conflict that undermine stability and peace. Reuters on 16 May quoted one senior US official said that US Vice President maintained that Beijing’s behavior in the maritime disputes was “dangerous and provocative” and must stop.
Also on 15 May, US Military Chief of Staff, in joint press conference with China’s PLA Chief of Staff, when asked whether China was behaving provocatively in the dispute with Viet Nam and whether he saw the risk of conflict in the region increasing, said: “We spoke about the fact that the use of military assets to resolve disputes is provocative and it does increase risk. We had a rich discussion about what exactly is the status quo and who has been seeking to change it.”
On 12 May, according to US State Department, US Secretary of State had a phone call with China’s Foreign Minister, in which he maintained that China’s introduction of an oil rig and numerous government vessels in waters disputed with Viet Nam was provocative, and “he urged both sides to de-escalate tensions, ensure safe conduct by their vessels at sea, and resolve the dispute through peaceful means in accordance with international law.”
US State Secretary also stated during press conference with Singapore FM on 12 May that one of the issues discussed “… is the Chinese challenge to the Paracel Islands. And we are particularly concerned – all nations that are engaged in navigation and traffic within the South China Sea, the East China Sea, are deeply concerned about this aggressive act. We want to see a code of conduct created; we want to see this resolved peacefully through the Law of the Sea, through arbitration, through any other means, but not direct confrontation and aggressive action.”
On 7 May 2014, State Department spokesperson said that “given the current history of tensions in the South China Sea, China’s unilateral decision to introduce its oil rig into these disputed waters is provocative and unhelpful to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region… we are strongly concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by vessels in the disputed area. We call on all parties to conduct themselves in a safe and appropriate manner, exercise restraint and address competing sovereignty claims peacefully, diplomatically, and in accordance with international law.”
On 27 May State Department spokesperson reiterated that the US “remain concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by vessels operating in this area by the Chinese. We continue to call on all parties to exercise restraint and take steps to lower the tensions and conduct themselves in a safe and, of course, professional manner.”
By Huong Giang