Vietnam’s Defense Minister Phan Van Giang called for actions to “constrain” and “avoid complicating the situation” in resolving disputes in the East Sea (South China Sea) when he met with ASEAN and Chinese ministers on May June 15.
Noting the informal meeting of the ASEAN-China Defense Ministers in an online form organized by Brunei- the rotating president of the Southeast Asian Nations, the Vietnam News Agency reported that Senior Lieutenant General Giang, head of the Vietnamese delegation, suggested the parties create a favorable environment for the negotiation of the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC), especially through confidence-building measures.
The meeting comes a day before the 10-nation Southeast Asian bloc meets with defense ministers from eight other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including the US, Japan, and India.
Senior Lieutenant General Giang was quoted as saying at an informal meeting on June 15 that the Vietnamese side suggested that the parties “refrain from actions, avoid complicating the situation, settle disputes by peaceful means, on basis of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”
In a statement Singapore released after the June 15 meeting cited by Nikkei Asia, ASEAN’s ministers emphasized “the need to maintain and promote a conducive environment to the early conclusion of a COC which is “effective and substantive under international law,” referring to the code of conduct in the East Sea.
China has overlapping claims with ASEAN member states over the resource-rich South China Sea, according to Nikkei Asia. At a meeting of foreign ministers last week, ASEAN and China agreed to expedite the resumption of negotiations on a code of conduct, which had been halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The South China Sea has also been a key topic in previous ASEAN defense ministers’ meetings. The new statement issued on June 15 reiterates that the countries are committed to “the maintenance and promotion of peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.”
The ministers also called for “self-restraint in actions” and urged all parties to “avoid actions that could complicate or escalate the situation,” without naming specific countries.
Tensions in the South China Sea have increased in recent weeks between countries in the region and China. Malaysia earlier this month sent fighter jets to intercept 16 Chinese transport planes flying into the South China Sea, which it said were engaged in “suspicious activities” near its airspace. Meanwhile, the Philippines has repeatedly protested the “illegal” and “threatening” presence of hundreds of Chinese “maritime militia” inside its exclusive economic zone. Vietnam is said to have expanded its maritime militia to strengthen its defense against China’s challenges in the South China Sea.
Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghuang was not quoted by domestic newspapers as saying at the meeting, but Vietnam’s Defense Minister was quoted by the VNA as emphasizing the importance of ASEAN-China cooperation for “peace and stability” regional determination” and “responsive to the establishment of a hotline between the ministers of ASEAN and China.