VIENTIANE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is very encouraged by statements coming from many members of the international community, including many Southeast Asian nations, that have expressed support for the rule of law and a peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
Speaking at the end of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional forum in Laos Tuesday, Kerry said he has had candid and constructive discussions, including a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi Monday, about a “path forward” in light of a decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that struck down China’s extensive claims in the sea.
China has rejected the tribunal's ruling, saying it does not have the authority to hear the case brought by the Philippines.
During his time in the Laotian capital, Kerry also met with Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida, and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, for the sixth ministerial meeting of the so-called Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD).
The three urged all sides to respect freedom of navigation and overflight in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean, while voicing their strong opposition to any coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions.
An earlier statement by the 10-member Southeast Asian regional bloc seemed compromised as a result of unyielding objections from China’s close ally, Cambodia.
The official ASEAN statement expressed serious concerns over artificial land reclamations and escalations of activities in the South China Sea, neither the Hague tribunal ruling or any single nation, including China, were mentioned.
Laos, ASEAN’s chair this year, is also considered a close ally of neighboring China.
Experts said ASEAN operates on a consensus principle that effectively gives each country a veto power when forming a stand on various issues.
Next, Secretary Kerry will travel to Manila for talks with Philippine officials that are likely to include further discussions of the South China Sea issue.