Leaders of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia issued a collective statement on Wednesday against actions that could jeopardize peace in the South China Sea, following recent tensions between Beijing and the Philippines in disputed waters.

“We recognize the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity. We encourage all countries to avoid any unilateral actions that endanger peace, security and stability in the region,” the nations said in a joint statement while calling for a “rules-based” order in the Indo-Pacific region.

In response, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said, “We will properly manage differences with the countries concerned and fully and effectively implement them with ASEAN countries.”

Tensions in the South China Sea

Tensions in the trade corridor escalated earlier this week when Chinese vessels in the Spratly Islands were accused of pursuing Philippine ships. 

On Monday when the summit began, Philippine Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo asked Beijing to “stop harassing us.” 

The following day, the Philippines summoned China’s deputy chief of mission in Manila for “aggressive actions” against a resupply mission for their troops.

The Philippine coast guard said Chinese ships were involved in two separate collisions, including one where a resupply boat was hit with a water cannon.

Manila warns Beijing over South China Sea dispute

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China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, disregarding legal precedents and competing claims from various Southeast Asian nations.

The dispute remains a significant security challenge in the region, casting a shadow over a three-day summit between Australia and the 10-nation ASEAN bloc. 

China calls Philippines a US ‘pawn’

Tensions between China and the Philippines also threaten relations between China and the US, already precarious due to Beijing’s aggression toward Taiwan.

Manila and Washington are subject to a mutual defense treaty, going back to 1951, which binds them to defend each other if one comes under attack.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Wednesday that the collisions in the South China Sea were not enough of a reason to invoke the treaty. But Marcos did express his “great alarm” over the incidents.

Meanwhile, China accused the US of using the Philippines as a “pawn”

“China urges the United States not to use the Philippines as a pawn to stir up trouble in the South China Sea,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters.

“The Philippines should not let itself be at the mercy of the United States,” she added. 

How China may allocate its planned defense increase of 7.2%

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Australia seeks to ‘alleviate tensions’

China’s increasing aggression in the sea has been a priority on the ASEAN summit’s agenda, which ends Wednesday. 

The summit is being held in Melbourne to mark 50 years of Australia becoming the bloc’s first external partner. 

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, speaking to reporters at the summit said, “I am very concerned and Australia is concerned about any unsafe and destabilizing behavior in the South China Sea. We need to make sure that activity in the South China Sea alleviates any tensions and doesn’t add to it.”

Canberra enjoys close ties with Washington and has become more vocal about China’s actions in the region. 

tg/ (AFP, Reuters)


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