China slammed the Vietnamese head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Wednesday for a series of allegedly biased and false remarks on South China Sea disputes.
“Mr. Le Luong Minh has repeatedly made biased comments on the issue of the South China Sea, which were untrue and incompatible with his capacity as ASEAN secretary-general,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said at a press briefing, according to Xinhua.
“We advise Mr. Le Luong Minh do his part as ASEAN secretary-general, stick to ASEAN’s neutrality on the South China Sea issue, and do more to promote the healthy development of China-ASEAN relations,” Hong added.
Hong also suggested that Le’s comments had damaged ASEAN’s image as a regional organization because he was making comments on behalf of one country rather than reflecting the consensus of the grouping more broadly.
A Reuters report, carried by several other international media outlets, noted that China may be reacting to Le’s comments on the South China Sea to The Manila Times last week.
In that interview, published March 4, the secretary general, who is also a veteran Vietnamese diplomat, said that the four ASEAN claimants – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam – could not possibly accept China’s nine-dotted line because it was not in accordance with international law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“All ASEAN claimants protest [against] the dotted line [concept] because it’s not [in accordance with the] commitment [to] UNCLOS and the dotted line covers 90 percent of the South China Sea. There is no way it can be accepted by any party to the UNCLOS,” Le had said.
He also noted that what has been happening in the South China Sea is “impacting” ASEAN’s efforts to forge a more cohesive community, which is why the grouping considers efforts to reach a solution – including through a binding code of conduct – “conducive to maintaining peace and stability.”
Le also said that developments in the South China Sea – which would presumably include China’s reclamation efforts – were dangerous and risk complicating matters.
“The developments seem to be dangerous for the fact that [they affect] the status quo. The expansion and illegal [occupation] of islands affect the status quo and [they are] complicating the situation,” Le said.
But Le was also careful to stress that China is not considered a threat to regional peace because the South China Sea is only one issue within ASEAN-China ties.
“We have been talking about sovereignty issues but we have to be reminded and aware that this is not the only issue with China. We have a very substantive engagement with China,” he emphasized.