EU Council President Donald Tusk handed the Chinese a brusque reminder of the need for a “rules-based international order” at the ASEM summit in Ulaanbaatar on Friday (15 July) – the first major international conference since the row over the South China sea saw a legal ruling.
The UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague ruled Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea have no legal foundation.
China had said the subject should not be brought up at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), and had boycotted the PCA hearings.
However, Tusk – although not mentioning the topic directly – gave a coded rebuke to Beijing, saying “Dialogue and a strong commitment to the rules-based international order are necessary.”
The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), held every two years, and which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, is supposed to be a venue for increasing cooperation across the Eurasian region and exploring ways to strengthen global agreements governing everything from trade to civil aviation.
The Philippines, which brought the case, said it planned to raise the issue during the summit.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay will discuss Manila’s “peaceful and rules-based approach” to the dispute and “the need for parties to respect the recent decision” during the meeting, his office said.
Vietnam – whose own South China Sea dispute with Beijing may also benefit from the PCA ruling – will also talk about “all kinds of issues” at the summit, its foreign minister Pham Binh Minh said.
“We welcome the arbitration award,” he told AFP on Thursday (14 July) as dignitaries gathered in Ulaanbaatar Bator.
Japan is embroiled in a separate territorial dispute with Beijing and Abe was due to meet the Philippines’ Yasay in the afternoon.
The criticism comes as Beijing, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, seeks a greater presence on the global diplomatic stage.
It hopes to use the ASEM summit as an opportunity to showcase its global initiatives, such as the One Belt, One Road programme, an ambitious plan to build infrastructure projects across the Eurasian region.
At a briefing this week, Chinese assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou said that ASEM was “not an appropriate venue” to discuss the South China Sea issue.
China has sought to assert its claims in the region by building a network of artificial islands capable of supporting military operations, and this week reiterated its right to declare an Air Defence Identification Zone in the area, which would demand civilian flights submit to the authority of its military.
Other issues on the agenda at ASEM include Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. France’s Ayrault said that he sought to reassure Asian countries over the EU’s future, telling them: “We want to preserve a strong Europe.”
The ASEM meeting held a minute’s silence before Friday’s talks in commemoration of the 84 dead in Nice in last night’s terror attack.
Tusk told the summit, “It’s a tragic paradox that the subject of this attack were people celebrating liberty, equality and fraternity.”
EU countries proved unable EU to adopt a declaration telling China it should abide by the ruling by the South China Sea arbitral tribunal.
In a face-saving effort, a statement was adopted, in which EU countries “acknowledge” the ruling.