MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday, June 16, released what is essentially a repeat of a controversial retracted statement on the ASEAN-China foreign ministers' meeting, which stated "serious concerns" over recent events in the South China Sea.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers, during the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' meeting in Kunming, China on Tuesday, June 14, "expressed serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security, and stability in the South China Sea," the DFA statement, signed by Philippine Foreign Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, said.
In what the Philippine statement described as a "candid exchange" with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the ASEAN diplomats "stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above" the sea based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
During the meeting, the ASEAN ministers also "emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including reclamation, which may raise tensions in the South China Sea," the DFA statement continued.
The ministers, the Philippines added, also said that the countries in the region should have confidence-building measures that would "enhance, among others, trust and confidence amongst parties."
"The result of this meeting may very well reflect ASEAN's reaction to the decision of the arbitral tribunal," Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Charles Jose said, referring to the UN tribunal ruling on the Philippines’ claim against China in the West Philippine Sea.
Similar to retracted statement
The DFA statement essentially echoed the strongly-worded communique released by Malaysia on Tuesday, which the country retracted hours later.
Malaysia first released the statement to Agence France-Presse through the country's foreign ministry Tuesday, while the ministers were still in Kunming.
However, within hours, Malaysia said the ASEAN secretariat issued a recall, citing "urgent amendments" that needed to be made.
The Malaysian foreign ministry spokesperson said the ASEAN secretariat had approved the release of the statement, then later informed the ministry it was being rescinded. (READ: Indonesia cites error as ASEAN meeting ends in confusion)
China said the statement was "not an official ASEAN document."
By the time the Kunming meeting closed, there was an "agreement among ASEAN ministers that there will be a statement that will be released," Jose said.
However, Jose said they did not know what happened after the ministers left. "Maybe some countries may have changed their minds."
Ruling out soon
China does not recognize the arbitration, whose ruling would be released soon, and has reacted angrily to Manila's legal efforts over the Beijing-controlled Scarborough Shoal, off the main Philippine island of Luzon.
ASEAN has frequently struggled to reach consensus on issues involving China, which prefers to negotiate with individual countries, rather than the bloc.
Critics say this allows China to use its economic leverage on poorer members to water down criticism of its actions.
But the region appeared earlier Tuesday to be rallying around one of its chief democracies. – With reports from Camille Elemia and Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com