ASEAN ministers denounce land reclamation, militarization in South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 6) — Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) toughened their stance against land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea in the final Joint Communiqué released Sunday.

“We discussed extensively the matters relating to the South China Sea and took note of the concerns expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” the statement read.

“We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states,” it added.

The statement is a reference to Chinese structures over disputed islands, including Mischief Reef, which is contested by China and the Philippines, and Woody Island, which is contested by China and Vietnam.

The 46-page statement echoed the wording from the 49th Joint Communiqué released by ASEAN ministers in Laos last year.

The stance is a turn from an initial draft obtained by the media before the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

ASEAN Secretary General Lê Lương Minh of Vietnam told CNN Philippines in a one-on-one interview that ministers expressed concerns on the developments in the contested waters, including militarization and land reclamation.

When asked if these concerns will reflect in the final Joint Communiqué, Minh answered, “Yes. Of course, yes.”

Earlier reports said Vietnam lobbied for tougher language on the maritime row, as the country is one of the claimants in the region.

Two other ASEAN members — Brunei and Malaysia — and Taiwan are also claiming parts of the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, at the opening of the meetings, admitted there was robust discussion among the ministers late Friday on the maritime dispute.

In the ASEAN Summit last April, the Chairman’s statement was seen by critics as a toned-down stance on the maritime row as it did not reference the phrase “legal and diplomatic processes” for the settlement of disputes.

Read more: ASEAN tones down stance on arbitral ruling

The Joint Communiqué is one of 32 outcome documents from the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings. The document reflects the consensus of the ministers on issues concerning ASEAN.

CNN Philippines Correspondent JC Gotinga and Multi-Platform Writer Regine Cabato contributed to this report.