ASEAN Deals Blow to U.S., Nixes Mention of South China Sea Ruling

South China Sea / AP

A group of Southeast Asian countries handed China a diplomatic win on Monday by no longer pursuing a U.S.-backed proposal to reference in a joint statement the recent international court ruling against Beijing’s contested maritime claims in the South China Sea.

The ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, made its decision after the Philippines dropped its appeal to mention the ruling amid protest from Cambodia, China’s closest ally in the regional organization.

ASEAN requires all of its decisions to be made by consensus, and Cambodia’s refusal to support mentioning the July 12 tribunal ruling left the bloc deadlocked over the weekend before the Philippines withdrew its request to mention the arbitration case. That shift ended the debate and dealt a blow to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who urged ASEAN earlier Monday to mention it.

The Chinese government has refused to comply with the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling in The Hague, Netherlands, that nullified its territorial and maritime claims to virtually the entire South China Sea. Beijing refused to participate in the proceedings brought by the Philippines.

Kerry "urged ASEAN to reach consensus and issue a joint statement on the arbitral tribunals recent ruling on the South China Sea" during a meeting with Laos’ Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith, according to State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

Several nations–including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam–claim territory in the South China Sea. Roughly $5 trillion in shipping trade passes through the waterway annually.

China’s claims to the vital trade waterway has become a point of contention among ASEAN members.

"We remain seriously concerned about recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region," the ASEAN communique said.