Beijing welcomes ASEAN summit declaration on South China Sea

Southeast Asian leaders following their retreat in the 30th ASEAN Leaders' Summit held in Manila recently. (AP)
Updated 03 May 2017
0

Beijing welcomes ASEAN summit declaration on South China Sea

BEIJING: China on Tuesday welcomed a softer stand taken by Southeast Asian countries on the disputed South China Sea at a weekend summit, saying it showed efforts to ease tension were working.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) dropped references to “land reclamation and militarization” from its chairman’s statement this year at the end of its summit in the Philippine capital, Manila.
The reference had been included last year and was even in an earlier, unpublished version of the statement, seen by Reuters on Saturday.
Two ASEAN diplomats said that this year, China had pressed ASEAN chair the Philippines to keep China’s contentious activities in the strategic waterway off ASEAN’s official agenda.
China is not a member of the 10-member bloc and did not attend the summit but it is extremely sensitive about the content of its statements.
It has often been accused of trying to influence the drafting of statements to muzzle what it sees as challenges to its sweeping sovereignty claim.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not directly answer a question on whether China had exerted pressure over the statement.
“Since last year, with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries including the Philippines, temperatures in the South China Sea situation have gone down and things have eased up. I think this accords with the interests of countries in the region,” Geng told a daily news briefing.
“The relevant situation at this ASEAN summit again fully shows the positive changes in the South China Sea situation and that the joint wish of countries in this region is to seek stability, promote cooperation and seek development, and this should be respected and supported by all sides.”
China has reacted angrily to individual members of the regional bloc expressing their concern about its rapid reclamation of reefs in the Spratlys islands and its installation of missile systems on them.
Philippine foreign ministry official Zaldy Patron, who is in-charge of ASEAN affairs, said nobody at the summit had pushed strongly on the South China Sea issue, or mentioned anything about land reclamation and militarization.
“But on the other hand, the leaders highlighted improving relations between ASEAN and China,” Patron said in Manila.
The softer statement comes as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte seeks to bury the hatchet with China after years of wrangling over its maritime assertiveness and over-lapping claims.
After lobbying from Duterte, China agreed to let Philippine boats back to the rich fishing ground of the disputed Scarborough Shoal following a four-year blockade.
China claims most of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have competing claims that overlap with China’s.


UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 18 June 2019
0

UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.