31st ASEAN Chairman's statement references international law in South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 16) — The Philippines, as chair of the 31st ASEAN Summit brought back a provision into the final Chairman's Statement that implied a reference to a landmark ruling recognizing the Philippines' claims over the South China Sea.

The ASEAN Chairman's statement released Thursday "stressed the need to adhere to the peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)."

"[We] further reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states," the statement read.

This was a departure from the 30th ASEAN Chairman's statement in April, which skipped the passage acknowledging international law altogether. There was also no mention of militarization or land reclamation in the earlier statement.

The 31st Chairman's Statement comes after leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China announced on Monday the beginning of negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

The Chairman's Statement also "looked forward to the announcement of substantive negotiations on the [code of conduct]." It welcomed the testing of cross-country hotlines on maritime emergencies, and "looked forward to the operationalization of the Joint Statement on the Observance of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea," it added.

Sources told CNN Philippines that the 30th ASEAN Chairman's Statement in April did not include the reference to international law, following pressure from Beijing.

As the 31st ASEAN Summit approached, ASEAN foreign ministers in their Joint Communique in August acknowledged international law, raised concern on land reclamation, and emphasized non-militarization.

However, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told the press that the Philippines did not want to include these passages in the Joint Communique, but he gave in to other ministers.

Apart from China and the Philippines, other claimants of the disputed islands are ASEAN member states Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam as well as northern neighbor Taiwan.

A statement from the summit between ASEAN and China on Monday likewise "agreed to cooperate in maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the SCS, in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS."