The foreign ministers urge all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions which could undermine peace and stability in the area

MANILA, Philippines – Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Saturday, May 10, voiced “serious concerns” about China’s oil drilling operations in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In a statement they adopted in Myanmar and which was obtained by Rappler, they urged all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint and avoid action that could undermine peace and stability in the area. The foreign ministers also urged all parties involved in the disputes to refrain from resorting to threat or using force to resolve differences.

The statement said, “ASEAN foreign ministers expressed their serious concerns over the ongoing developments in the South China Sea, which have increased tensions in the area.”

It continued: “They urged all parties concerned, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions which could undermine peace and stability in the area: and to resolve disputes by peaceful means without resorting to threat or use of force.”

The statement, released as ASEAN heads of state and government gathered in Myanmar for the 24th ASEAN summit, is seen as an attempt by ASEAN ministers to deflate growing tensions in the South China Sea.

The oil drilling operations by China near the disputed Paracel Islands have caused recent clashes with Vietnamese Coast Guard vessels. Hanoi said Chinese ships that surrounded a Chinese deep-water oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam used water cannon against Vietnamese patrol vessels in the area. Worse, the Chinese ships also rammed the Vietnamese vessels.

Vietnam has been trying to prevent China from stationing a US$1-billion oil rig, called the HD-981, in the Northwest Triton Island of the Paracels. Both countries are parties to UNCLOS. (READ: Will Vietnam follow PH and file a case vs China?)

“They reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability, maritime security, freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as well as the ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea and Joint Statement of the 15th ASEAN-China Summit on the 10th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” the statement also said.

In addition, the foreign ministers “also called on all parties to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to undertake full and effective implementation of the DOC in order to create an environment of mutual trust and confidence. They emphasized the need for expeditiously working towards an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.”

Both China and Vietnam had clashed in 1974 over the Paracels. The Vietnamese navy tried to expel Chinese fishing vessels in the area, prompting China to retaliate by sending warships in the Paracels. China won and took control over the islands, but Vietnam has not given up its claim.

Earlier, President Benigno Aquino III said he will push for the early inclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea as the Philippines has itself been entangled in a maritime dispute with China over Ayungin Shoal, an outpost in the Spratly Islands.

Other ASEAN countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei also claim parts of the South China Sea. The Philippines, for its part, has sought the intervention of a UN arbitral tribunal to settle disputed claims with China. – Rappler.com