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

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The reference had been included last year and was even in an earlier, unpublished version of the statement, seen by Reuters on Saturday.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.


UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

Updated 47 min 59 sec ago

UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

  • Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year
  • SOAS said that it had taken short term action to reduce costs

LONDON: A UK university specializing in the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been forced to slash costs and implement drastic staff cuts after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic exacerbated its financial problems.
Staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, said they feared that management was cutting costs to make the college an attractive takeover target for an overseas institution or one of its London rivals, UK newspaper the Guardian reported.
Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year.
The effects of the pandemic on student recruitment meant “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the school’s ability to continue as a going concern” over the next 12 months, SOAS’s auditors warned.
One academic at SOAS told the Guardian that the college’s senior managers had “been unable to make significant changes over the last few years, and now it has ended in a big crisis. This is a serious failure of management.”
Its senior academics were ordered to identify staff cuts that were to be submitted on Friday, and departments were asked to balance their budgets while expecting a 50 percent drop in new international students, the report said.
SOAS’s International Foundation Courses and English Language Studies Center, which provides courses to international students, has reportedly been told to make so many cuts that it will effectively disappear, along with its 55 staff.
The college’s highly regarded international development department, which is ranked eighth in the world, will also suffer from major cuts. Its famed anthropology and sociology department is likely to lose between a third and half of its academic staff.
“I think people are in shock,” a staff member said. “This all happened while we are still coping with COVID-19.”
SOAS released a statement on Friday saying the coronavirus pandemic had affected all British universities and that it was “taking decisive action now so that we can continue to ensure we provide an excellent student experience to our new and returning students.”
It acknowledged that although its “accounts show that SOAS has already taken steps to reduce its deficit position,” the “impact of COVID-19 has put finances across the HE sector under even greater pressure than before.”
It added that it had taken short term action to reduce costs including “pausing capital spend, line by line scrutiny of non-pay budgets” and reducing the use of building space in the Bloomsbury area in London, outside its core campus.
SOAS also said that additional proposals for change were being considered and would be implemented ahead of the start of the new academic year in September. 
SOAS, University of London, has been ranked in the UK’s top 20 universities for Arts and Humanities, according to the 2020 Times Higher Education World University Ranking.
The rankings place SOAS 13th in the UK and 57th in the world.