Asia

Asean talks end without statement amid South China Sea row

Asean defence ministers pose for a photograph in Kuala Lumpur 3 November 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The defence ministers from the 10 countries in Asean were joined by other regional representatives

South East Asian defence ministers meeting in Malaysia have failed to agree on a closing statement for their summit, amid a row over Chinese activity in the South China Sea.

Some of the nations attending the summit in Malaysia wanted the statement to include a reference to China's controversial land reclamation work.

But US officials said China had lobbied hard for the issue not to be mentioned.

China in turn accused "certain other countries" of interfering.

In recent years China has been aggressively staking its claims in the resource-rich South China Sea by reclaiming land and building airstrips and facilities on disputed reefs, angering neighbours who have overlapping claims.

The US and others have accused China of militarisation, but China says the construction is legal and for civilian purposes.


Contested South China Sea

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption China has been steadily reclaiming land around reefs in the South China Sea

Finger-pointing

The defence summit in Kuala Lumpur involved all 10 member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) as well as regional partners, including the US and China.

Speaking after the summit, Malaysia's Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the countries had failed to reach consensus on a closing statement - intended to be an expression of unity - so the decision was made not to issue one.

Image copyright AP
Image caption China's defence minister Chang Wanquan is attending the meeting
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The US defence secretary Ashton Carter will sail on a US warship in the South China Sea on Thursday

A US official told reporters the talks broke down because several countries felt it was "inappropriate" to issue a statement which did not mention the divisive territorial dispute.

"This was an Asean decision but in our view no statement is better than one that avoids the important issue of China's reclamation and militarisation in the South China Sea," Reuters quoted the official as saying.

Carter to sail on USS Roosevelt

China's defence ministry issued a statement on its official microblogging Weibo account saying China had established a "common understanding" with Asean on the contents of the statement.

"But certain other countries disregarded this existing common understanding, attempting to force and insert content unrelated to this summit's discussion into the joint declaration, completely straying from the Asean defence meeting mechanism's aims and principles," it said.

Asean defence meetings have in the past failed to produce joint declarations over the same issue.

The latest clash of words comes days after the US angered Beijing by sailing a warship through an area of the South China Sea claimed by China.

The US has announced that Defence Secretary Ash Carter and his Malaysian counterpart would sail through the South China Sea on Thursday on board the USS Roosevelt.

Their route has not been made public, but it is likely to be seen by China as further provocation.