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Asia-Europe Meeting not a place to discuss South China Sea, asserts Beijing

world Updated: Jul 11, 2016 23:18 IST
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A Chinese Coast Guard vessel manoeuvres to block a Philippine government supply ship with members of the media aboard at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea in (Reuters file photo)

The South China Sea is not on the agenda and should not be discussed at a major summit between Asian and European leaders in Mongolia at the end of the week attended by China’s premier, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Monday.

The Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, will be the first important diplomatic gathering after the July 12 ruling by an arbitration court hearing a dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea in the Dutch city of The Hague.

Tensions and rhetoric have been rising ahead of the ruling, a case which China has refused to recognise or participate in, saying the court has no jurisdiction and China cannot be forced to accept dispute resolution.

China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Chinese assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou signalled discussion of the South China Sea would not be welcomed at the event, which happens once every two years, as it’s designed to discuss issues between Asia and Europe.

“The ASEM leaders summit is not a suitable place to discuss the South China Sea. There are no plans to discuss it there on the agenda for the meeting. And it should not be put on the agenda,” Kong told a news briefing.

However, Beijing-based diplomats involved with preparations for ASEM say that it is inevitable that the South China Sea dispute will be raised.

Aside from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, other attendees expected are Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top European Union officials.

The United States has conducted freedom of navigation patrols close to Chinese-held islands, to Beijing’s anger, while China has been bolstering its military presence there.

Kong said that if there are tensions in the South China Sea it is because certain countries outside the region have been putting on shows of force and interfering.

“There is no reason to get the South China Sea issue into this ASEM meeting citing freedom of navigation and security interests as causes of concern. It’s got no leg to stand on,” he added.

The relevant countries in the region, as well as China, have the wisdom to maintain peace and stability on the South China Sea, Kong said.