KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—While admitting China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea is cause for serious concern, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said it would rather avoid a confrontational approach with its giant neighbor.
Instead, the ten-nation body will continue to lobby for a code of conduct while engaging China in a “constructive manner.”
In the closing statements of the summit, Malaysia—the country which is serving as the annual chair for ASEAN this year—said it is urging other countries to communicate with China via normal diplomatic channels.
While acknowledging the reclamation activities being conducted by China in the disputed areas, Malaysia said it would be better for all parties concerned to use self-restraint rather than force and coercion in dealing with the issue.
“We hope to influence China since it is also in their interest to not be seen as a bully and a destabilizer in the region,” Malaysia said.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III had earlier called for ASEAN to take stronger, united stand against China, warning his fellow leaders that failure to do so would lead to Beijing’s “de facto control” of the disputed areas especially since its reclamation program could lead to the construction of airstrips and military bases in the future.
China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Brunei, and non-ASEAN member Taiwan have overlapping claims in the resource-rich West Philippine Sea which is also one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
China claims the entire sea as its own, putting it into conflict with its smaller neighbors.
Out of the ASEAN, it is the Philippines and Vietnam that have had the most tense naval standoffs with China in the disputed areas.
Manila has also sparked Beijing’s ire for sending its case to the United Nations for arbitration, with the latter saying it would only negotiate on a bilateral basis with its rival claimants.