The United States is portraying the outcome of a meeting in Myanmar among Southeast Asian nations as a setback for Beijing's attempts to minimize territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
There is no specific mention of China in the final statement by the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), although the group, in its meetings over the last several days in Myanmar's capital, did consider a freeze on “provocative acts” in the South China Sea.
That pact was proposed by Washington and Manila. Despite China's rebuff of the proposal, U.S. officials are characterizing the outcome of the overall meeting as a positive one.
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Naypyidaw that during all of the relevant talks, he underscored the need for a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, involving overlapping maritime claims among a number of sovereign states in the region.
“And I'm very pleased that there is positive language that came out in the communiqué issued by ASEAN foreign ministers yesterday as a result of that discussion that embraces this idea of resolving these issues in a thoughtful and peaceful way,” said Kerry.
Kerry declared that the communiqué’s language “goes far enough” despite China's rebuff of the freeze proposal.
The final language in the communiqué states: "We urged all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions which would complicate the situation and undermine peace, stability, and security in the South China Sea."
Although talks have been held on a code of conduct for the sea, there has been little significant progress.
A senior U.S. official has been quoted saying that based on private conversations among diplomats, ASEAN concern over the territorial disputes is at “an all-time high."
The ASEAN Regional Forum security talks involved 27 countries, including Australia, China, India, Japan, Russia and the United States.
China has criticized involvement by the United States in the South China Sea issue, contending Washington is encouraging such countries as the Philippines and Vietnam to be more assertive as part of America's military pivot back to Asia.
China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, who met with Kerry for a half an hour on Saturday, told reporters at the ASEAN gathering that it is premature to move towards settling the territorial dispute based on international law. He accused others of exaggerating the level of tension while also characterizing his country as maintaining restraint in the disputed waters, saying China is being provoked by other countries.