China lashed out at the United States and Japan on Thursday, accusing the two allies of trying to foment discord between Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbours over lingering tensions in the South China Sea.
The accusation by Chinese vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin came after the East Asia Summit in Vientiane ended without reprimanding China on its assertiveness in the waters, actions that have strained ties with its neighbours.
After the summit, Liu praised the 10-strong Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes four rival claimants, for showing restraint and willingness to find solutions to the disputes.
“A total of 16 out of 18 nations, including all Asean member nations, supported the joint efforts by China and Asean to push ahead with negotiations on the code of conduct on the South China Sea,” he said.
“Only two nations mentioned the international arbitration ruling and insisted the ruling should be binding and implemented,” Liu said, without naming the US or Japan.
He was referring the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague’s dismissal in July of Beijing’s expansionist claims over much of the South China Sea.
US President Barack Obama raised the ruling during his talks in Laos over the past few days.
“I recognise this raises tensions but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and regional stability,” Obama said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also singled out China and expressed “serious concerns” about Beijing’s increasingly muscular claims in the waters.
But after their annual summit on Tuesday and Wednesday, Asean leaders held off on naming China or mentioning its rapid island-building in the area, widely seen as the source of the tension.
In a joint statement, the Asean leaders said their summit “took note” of the concerns expressed by some leaders on land reclamation and escalation of activity in the area, which had eroded trust, increased tensions and could undermine peacein the region.
Analysts said that although Beijing was reluctant to see the maritime disputes being discussed widely at the summit, the outcome was acceptable because China was not reprimanded.
National University of Singapore Professor Huang Jing said Asean refrained from siding with the US and Japan because it did not want to embarrass China over the arbitration ruling, which Beijing saw as a sweeping setback.
“I think Asean realised that regional peace and stability should be their priority and their cooperation and dialogue with China is essential to finding a solution to the maritime dispute,” he said.
Additional reporting by Shi Jiangtao