Defence chiefs scrap statement over Sino-US spat
CONTINUED United States-Chinese tensions over the South China Sea have forced this year's dialogue meeting of Asia-Pacific defence ministers, which was held in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, to scrap plans for a joint statement.
"Our understanding is there will be no joint declaration," a US defence official said, as some diplomats cited Beijing's opposition to mention of the hot-button issue as what caused the abandonment of a statement.
According to China's official Xinhua news agency, Asean countries had reached consensus on the wording of the statement, but "individual countries outside the region" - an apparent reference to the US and Japan - attempted to "forcefully add" new wording.
It was not immediately clear who made the final decision not to issue a statement, but the US official said that "in our view, no statement is better than one that avoids the important issue of China's (land) reclamation and militarisation in the South China Sea", reported Agence France-Presse.
Defence ministers from the 10 Asean countries as well as their counterparts from the US, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and India met yesterday for the annual dialogue, which was first launched in 2013.
Officials said this year was the first time the dialogue failed to issue a joint statement by the defence chiefs.
The US insists that it has freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where China is asserting territorial claims by building islands. Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have contesting claims.
Joint declarations by South-east Asian nations would not solve territorial disputes in the South China Sea and concluding a code of conduct for the disputed waterway should be a priority, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, chairman of the dialogue, said yesterday.
Asean's failure to agree on a joint declaration is "not necessarily a bad thing" and it recognises there are different considerations and points of view on the South China Sea, Bloomberg quoted Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen as saying.