Plans for a ceremonial joint statement at the end of a Southeast Asian regional defense forum were dropped on Wednesday amid differences between China and the United States over the mention of disputes in the South China Sea in the document.
Officials from Malaysia, which is hosting the meeting of defense chiefs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), did not immediately comment on reasons for the cancellation.
However, in a revised schedule of the day’s program, the signing ceremony for the “Kuala Lumpur Joint Declaration” was dropped, Reuters reported.
Earlier, a senior US defense official said China was lobbying Southeast Asian nations to drop any reference to concerns over the South China Sea in the statement.
“The reason is because the Chinese lobbied to keep any reference to the South China Sea out of the final joint declaration,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.
“Understandably a number of ASEAN countries felt that was inappropriate. It reflects the divide China’s reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea has caused in the region.”
The US official added: “This was an ASEAN decision but in our view no statement is better than one that avoids the important issue of China’s reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea.”
China’s defense ministry, however, blamed “certain countries” outside Southeast Asia, a pointed reference to the United States and Japan.
They “tried to forcefully stuff in content to the joint declaration”, and the responsibility for failing to come up with a joint statement was completely with those countries, the ministry said in a microblog post.
Wednesday’s gathering brought together the 10 Southeast Asian defense ministers, along with ministers from countries such as the Australia, China, India, Japan and the United States.
The meeting, first held in 2006, is a platform to promote regional peace and stability.
The meeting is taking place a week after a US warship challenged territorial limits around one of Beijing’s man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago with a so-called freedom-of-navigation patrol.
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