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ASEAN gives Beijing a pass on SChina Sea

dpa logodpa 29/04/2017

An ASEAN summit has ended with leaders avoiding references to China's building and arming of its man made islands.

Southeast Asian leaders have taken a softer stance on disputes in the South China Sea during a summit, avoiding tacit references to China's building and arming of its man made islands.

A final statement of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was not made available until Sunday, dropped the references to "land reclamation and militarisation" included in the text issued at last year's meeting in Laos and an earlier, unpublished version seen by Reuters on Saturday.

The outcome follows what two ASEAN diplomats said were efforts by Chinese foreign ministry and embassy officials in Manila to pressure ASEAN chair the Philippines to keep Beijing's contentious activities in the strategic waterway off ASEAN's official agenda.

It also indicates four ASEAN members who the diplomats said had wanted a firmer position had agreed to the more conciliatory tone in the statement.

China is not a member of ASEAN and was not attending the summit but is extremely sensitive about the content of its statements and considers it a barometer of the bloc's dissent over its artificial islands in disputed waters.

The ASEAN statement also noted "the improving co-operation between ASEAN and China", and did not include references to "tensions" or "escalation of activities" seen in earlier drafts and in last year's text. It noted some leaders' concerns about "recent developments".

Beijing has reacted angrily to members expressing their concern about its rapid reclamation of reefs in the Spratly archipelago and its installation of missile systems on them.

According to some experts, China is now capable of deploying combat aircraft on several of its man made features.

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