South China Sea dispute splits Southeast Asian summit


Activists hold a protest in front of the Chinese Consular Office in Manila on April 16, 2012, demanding the Chinese government to immediately pull out from Scarborough Shoal. According to the Philippines said it remained locked in a stalemate with China over a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.



The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) annual conference, a particularly high-profile event this year after the group proposed a plan addressing the contentious South China Sea issue, failed to rally behind a set of guidelines and, in a first, was too divided to even issue a final joint communique, according to Agence-France Press

The week's talks, which ended today, were "very disappointing," said ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan, according to The Wall Street Journal

The Philippines also issued a statement saying "it deplores the non-issuance of a joint communique," calling it "unprecedented in ASEAN's 45-year existence," reported AFP.  

The conference was marked by heated debate over how to address Chinese and several Southeast nations' competing claims over the South China Sea. 

The issue has proven increasingly volatile in recent months, sparking naval standoffs and sharp words from various Southeast Asian nations and China, which claims basically the whole sea and has even built a city entirely dedicated to its administration, according to AP.

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The United States has also weighed in on the dispute recently, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling reporters in Cambodia on Thursday that although the nation's position is neutral, "we do have an interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea."

The US, however, has signaled readiness to help boost the Philippines military forces. The Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan all say they should have a stake in the resource-rich sea, reported Reuters. Beijing has cautioned against any involvement by "external forces."

Clinton spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the conference on Thursday. She told Reuters today that ASEAN conference results are "not at all unusual" for such a large organization to need more time to resolve such issues. 

The ASEAN, a 10-nation organization that does not include China, earlier this week announced that they had drafted a plan governing naval behavior in the disputed waters.

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Thursday that Yang offered Clinton a "careful indication" that Beijing might be open to working on the new code and would be speaking with the parties involved as soon as September.

The South China Sea holds an estimated 213 billion barrels of oil, making the territory more valuable than many resource-rich nations, Reuters said, citing a 2008 US Energy Information Administration report.