At the ASEAN summit, the South China Sea debate has continued to dominate talks. Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte also met with Barack Obama for the first time since describing the US President in vulgar terms.
As the regional summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began its final day in Laos on Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement regarding the disputed South China Sea.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was paraphrased as saying that China was willing to work with ASEAN countries “in dispelling interference … and proper handling of the South China Sea issue.”
The statement did not elaborate on the means by which Li intends to achieve this, although such wording is typically used by Chinese leaders when not permitting countries from outside the region, with no direct involvement in the dispute, from getting involved.
Philippines release photos
China’s statement late on Wednesday came just hours after the Philippines released reconnaissance pictures of Chinese boats, allegedly planning to build artificial islands on the Scarborough Shoal.
Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after a standoff with the Philippine Navy, and has blocked Filipino fishing vessels from the area. China has built several artificial islands on other reefs, including military bases, in order to exert its claims over nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims over parts of the sea, through which some $5 billion (4.4 billion euros) in trade passes every year.
The US, a treaty ally of the Philippines, has also been drawn into the dispute – prompting Washington to conduct so-called freedom of navigation exercises in waters near the artificial islands and fly aircraft over the territories. Beijing accuses the States of “militarizing the region.”
Human rights concerns in Philippines
Also on Wednesday, US President Barack Obama met briefly with Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte, days after the notoriously acid-tongued Philippine president branded Obama a “son of a whore.”
Obama canceled what would have been a first meeting with his Filipino counterpart shortly after learning of the remark.
Duterte’s ire appears to have been raised after it was made known that Obama would discuss human rights during the planned meeting. Rights groups have raised concerns over the reported deaths of more than 2,400 people in the crackdown on illegal drugs in the Philippines.
“You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore, I will curse you in that forum,” Duterte told reporters when asked about his message for Obama.
The Philippine president later expressed regret in a statement issued in the Laotian capital, Vientiane.
“While the immediate cause was my strong comments to certain press questions that elicited concern and distress, we also regret it came across as a personal attack on the US president,” he said in a statement.
ksb/kl (Reuters, AP, AFP)