Malaysia minister issues chairman's statement as ASEAN defence chiefs vow to bridge differences

PETALING JAYA - ASEAN defence ministers could not reach consensus on a regional security statement but vowed to bridge differences, including on the South China Sea spat, in their upcoming meetings.

The ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) was scheduled to come up with a Joint Declaration broadly outlining co-operation in security matters.

"We couldn't reach a consensus on the Joint Declaration so I am instead issuing a chairman's statement," Hishammuddin told a media conference after the end of the ADMM-Plus meeting held here yesterday.

The meeting also involved Defence Ministers from eight ASEAN dialogue partners including China and the United States, both of whom are at loggerheads over the maritime and territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Tensions are rising in the dispute involving claimant countries Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan and China.

In the most recent incident, a US warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of the disputed islands in the South China Sea on Oct 27, in the country's most significant challenge yet to Beijing's claims.

Reuters quoted unnamed officials as saying the US and Japan had pushed to get concerns on the South China Sea included in the declaration, with a number of countries including China objecting.

The 18 ministers involved in the ADMM-Plus earlier paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Responding to a question about a statement on the Chinese Defence Ministry's blog that blamed countries outside the region for the failure to reach a consensus, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said that the Joint Declaration was something decided by ASEAN members.

Carter said the US does not take sides in the region's maritime disputes and urged all claimants to permanently halt all land reclamation, stop the construction of facilities and cease further militarisation of disputed maritime features in the South China Sea.

The statement on China's Defence Ministry blog expressed regret over the failure of the ADMM-Plus to reach a consensus on the declaration.

The statement claimed that China had reached consensus on the declaration with ASEAN countries but that this was disregarded by unspecified non-ASEAN countries.