MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATED) The Association of Southeast Asian Nations stressed “non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities by all claimants and all other states” in the South China Sea but again steered away from a stronger stance on China’s reclamation and militarization in the vital waterway.
The chairman’s statement of the regional bloc’s recently ended 31st Summit also made no mention of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that upheld the Philippines’ claims over China’s to disputed territories in the South China Sea.
The Philippines chaired ASEAN this year. Since he assumed office, President Rodrigo Duterte has sought closer relations with China and has generally refused to invoke the arbitral ruling or take any strong position on the giant country’s activities in the South China Sea.
And while the chairman’s statement cited the need for “increased humanitarian access” to Myanmar’s Rakhine state, it made no mention of the more than half a million Rohingya who have fled the troubled territory from what the United Nations high commissioner for human rights described in September as “ethnic cleansing.”
The statement said the 10 ASEAN member-states “took note of improved relations between ASEAN and China and, in this regard, are encouraged by the adoption of the framework of the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea” and “look forward to the announcement of the start of substantive negotiations” at the 20th ASEAN-China Summit early next year.
“We likewise reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, maritime safety and security, rules-based order and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” it said.
On the Rakhine problem, the statement said “a number of leaders expressed support to Myanmar’s humanitarian relief program and welcomed the launch of the Myanmar government-led mechanism in cooperation with the Red Cross Movement and the assistance form the international community…”
It also “welcomed the commitment by Myanmar authorities to ensure the safety of civilians, take immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, restore normal socioeconomic conditions, and address the refugee problem through verification process” and voice support for Myanmar’s “efforts to bring peace, stability, rule of law and to promote harmony and reconciliation between the various communities, as well as sustainable and equitable development in Rakhine State.”
The ASEAN leaders also “noted with satisfaction the progress” of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights “in the promotion and protection of human rights in ASEAN,” particularly when it comes to “areas such as children’s rights, disability rights, and the application of a human rights-based approach in the fight against trafficking in persons.”
The statement noted that the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers was signed, as well.
The landmark document, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, would strengthen social protection, provide access to justice and to health services, and promote humane and fair treatment of migrant workers in the region.
It was also noted that the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN had deliberated on updating parts of the ASEAN Charter, “which would serve as a basis for (its) review in the future.”
The leaders also voiced their resolve “to preserve the Southeast Asian region as a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone and free of all other weapons of mass destruction.”
Noting the “recent successes” of some of the member-states in combatting terrorist groups, the leaders commended the adoption of the Manila Declaration to Counter the Rise of Radicalization and Violent Extremism, and the updated ASEAN Comprehensive Plan of Action on Counter Terrorism.
The leaders also pointed out that the ASEAN heads of major immigration checkpoints were cooperating on the issue of the movement of foreign terrorist fighters.
At the same time, discussions were ongoing on the proposed ASEAN Common Visa.
The Bohol Trafficking in Persons Work Plan 2017-2020 was finalized to implement the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
In terms of the fight against illegal drugs, the leaders committed to a drug-free ASEAN, and welcomed the implementation of the ASEAN Work Plan on Securing Communities Against Illicit Drugs 2016-2025. They were also open to the assistance of the ASEAN Dialogue Partners and other parties to address the problem.
As for cybersecurity, they mentioned “efforts to develop an ASEAN Cyber Centre and Hub to further enhance cooperation in (addressing) cybercrimes in the future.”
The leaders also “commended the emphasis placed… on micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as drivers of inclusive and innovative growth, and the efforts taken towards enhancing the ecosystem for MSME development.” In line with this, the ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN) was launched to connect business leaders with MSMEs to mentor them and help them grow.
When it comes to disaster response, the leaders declared their “full support for the operationalization of the ASEAN Declaration on One ASEAN One Response: ASEAN Responding to Disasters as One in the Region and Outside the Region, and welcomed new initiatives of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Disaster Management.”
A new Secretary-General of ASEAN was also appointed to replace Vietnam’s Le Luong Minh: Brunei’s Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi, who will hold the post from 2018 to 2022.
READ THE CHAIRMAN’S STATEMENT: