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Exclusive: E. Asia Summit statement may show stronger S. China Sea concerns

Bangkok, Nov. 13 (Jiji Press)–A draft of the chairman’s statement of the upcoming East Asia Summit obtained by Jiji Press used a stronger expression about concerns held by some leaders over the South China Sea situation compared with last year’s statement.

“Concerns were expressed by some leaders on recent developments” in the South China Sea, including land reclamations and other serious activities which “may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” the draft said.

The chairman’s statement adopted at last year’s East Asia Summit said participants “took note of some concerns on the land reclamations and activities” in the South China Sea.

The summit brings together the leaders of 18 countries, including members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan, the United States, China and Russia. This year’s summit will be held on Saturday using a teleconference system.

The stronger wording is apparently intended to contain China’s increasing maritime assertiveness in the region without mentioning the country by name. Some ASEAN member states, including Vietnam, chair of the upcoming summit, have been increasingly vigilant against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

As the expression about the South China Sea situation in last year’s East Asia Summit statement was weakened from that in a draft, which cited serious concerns over the developments in the region, however, there remains a possibility that this year’s statement may be watered down again in the last minute.

The draft statement for Saturday’s meeting hailed “the progress of the substantive negotiations toward the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.”

In November 2018, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China aims to finalize the code of conduct, which is aimed at preventing conflicts in the region with ASEAN countries, within three years.

According to ASEAN diplomatic sources, China has failed to hold direct negotiations with the ASEAN side on the matter this year due to the new coronavirus pandemic. China has expressed its eagerness to host face-to-face talks but ASEAN countries have been reluctant to visit the country, the sources said.

On the North Korean situation, the draft said, “We emphasized the importance of addressing issues of humanitarian concerns of the international community, including the resolution of the abductions issue.”

While the chairman’s statement last year said “some leaders” emphasized the importance of addressing North Korean issues, this year’s draft statement indicated that the recognition of such importance was shared by all leaders.

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