ASEAN Bloc Pushes for S. China Sea Breakthrough

ASEAN Bloc Pushes for S. China Sea BreakthroughASEAN Bloc Pushes for S. China Sea Breakthrough

Southeast Asian foreign ministers will hold crunch talks in Laos on Sunday at a summit already overshadowed by infighting over Beijing’s sabre rattling in the South China Sea.

The gathering in Vientiane that began on Sunday is the first major regional talks since the UN-backed tribunal ruled earlier this month that China did not have historic rights to vast swathes of the strategic sea.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrives in Laos on Monday, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are among the delegates attending meetings on the sidelines of the summit, Al Jazeera reported.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes four members who have competing claims with Beijing over parts of the strategic sea, has long presented itself as the best place for China to negotiate with neighbors over disputes.

Beijing has resisted that approach, insisting that territorial disputes must be settled bilaterally.

In recent years, ASEAN has struggled to present a united front against China with allegations that the regional superpower has forged alliances with smaller countries like Laos and Cambodia through aid and loans.

The UN tribunal ruling was a victory for the Philippines, which brought the case, and fellow ASEAN members Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia that also claim parts of the South China Sea.