NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: Southeast Asia’s regional bloc voiced alarm on Saturday over escalating tensions in the South China Sea after members Vietnam and Philippines squared off against Beijing in the disputed waters.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) foreign ministers “expressed serious concerns over the on-going developments” in the sea, which is subject to a web of bitter overlapping claims, on the eve of a leaders’ summit in Naypyidaw.
Tensions in the South China Sea soared this week after Beijing moved a drilling rig into waters that are also claimed by Hanoi, sparking a stand-off in which Vietnam said its boats were attacked. The incident drew a statement of concern from the United Nations. Manila, which has asked a UN tribunal to rule on China’s claims over most of the sea, also detained a Chinese fishing boat in disputed territory.
The Asean ministers “urged all parties concerned… to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions which could undermine peace and stability in the area” in a statement issued on Saturday. The statement also called on claimants to “resolve disputes by peaceful means without resorting to threat or use of force”.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the ministers’ meeting was dominated by maritime rows. China and Vietnam, which fought a brief border war in 1979, have been locked in a longstanding territorial dispute over their contested waters, and frequently trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration, fishing rights and the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
Beijing claims sovereign rights to almost the whole of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.