Arientha Primanita & Ismira Lutfia
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono insists there is no rift within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations after the bloc failed to agree on a position on the South China Sea at a recent summit.
The meeting in Phnom Penh last week was the first in Asean history in which foreign ministers from the 10 member states failed to come out with a joint communique on a given issue. Many blamed host Cambodia for siding with China in a territorial spat with the Philippines.
Yudhoyono said on Monday that although he was disappointed at the lack of consensus, it was wrong to portray Asean as splintering.
“I don’t agree that Asean is splintering. There is no disunity in Asean, although there are issues that Asean needs to resolve,” he said at the State Palace.
He also said that no matter how difficult it would be to reach agreement on certain key issues, he was confident that Asean, with its political tradition of building a consensus, would be able to rise to the occasion.
“It’s called the Asean way. No matter how complicated things get, we have always in the end been able to build consensus and been able to express this in joint communiques or even agreements,” the president said.
He said that on the issue of the South China Sea, where the Philippines and China are both laying claim to a rocky outcrop called the Scarborough Shoal, he said he believed diplomacy would ultimately lead to a solution.
“We shouldn’t blame the Philippines or China, but instead approach the issue with a clearer perspective,” Yudhoyono said. “It would be best if all concerned viewed the issue in the interest of stability in the region.”
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who previously called the Phnom Penh deadlock “perplexing” and “very, very disappointing,” said on Monday that he would visit several Asean countries to lobby support for a common position to take on the South China Sea issue.
“The failure or inability by Asean to reach a common position is potentially disruptive, and it cannot and should not be allowed to prevail for long,” he said, following a visit to his office by Bob Carr, the Australian foreign minister.
Marty said the first stop on his tour would be the Philippines, followed by visits to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore.
“Our hope is that there will be some kind of intensified effort to generate a common Asean position on the South China Sea,” he said.
He said the differences that prevented the bloc from reaching a consensus centered mainly on how the different parties wanted to word the incidents that occurred in the region.
“There are some countries that wanted to specifically say that such-and-such incident happened in territory A or territory B, while others wanted to be more general,” Marty said.