Southeast Asian countries are walking back concern that recent actions in the South China Sea where Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes has “the potential to undermine peace”.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) rescinded a strongly worded statement that expressed deep apprehensions over events in the disputed waters, AFP reports.
The statement came after the bloc’s foreign ministers met with their Chinese counterparts.
But just hours later, Malaysia said the ASEAN secretariat had issued a recall.
“We have to retract the media statement by the ASEAN foreign ministers… as there are urgent amendments to be made,” AFP quotes a Malaysian foreign ministry spokeswoman saying.
She said the secretariat had approved the release of the statement, then later informed the ministry it was being rescinded.
The Chinese foreign ministry expressed puzzlement over the diplomatic about-face and denied any official document had been issued.
“We have checked with the ASEAN side, and the so-called statement reported by AFP is not an official ASEAN document,” spokesman Lu Kang said.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea — a vast tract of water through which a huge chunk of global shipping passes.
It has bolstered its claim by building artificial islands including airstrips in the area, some of which are suitable for military use.
The Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have competing claims to parts of the sea, which is believed to harbour significant oil and gas deposits.
The episode comes as the region braces for a ruling by a UN tribunal on a claim brought by the Philippines against China.
China does not recognise the arbitration and has reacted angrily to Manila’s legal efforts over the Beijing-controlled Scarborough Shoal, off the main Philippine island of Luzon.
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