China, ASEAN leaders tout mutual trust despite South China Sea row

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations touted mutual trust Wednesday as their leaders met in Jakarta amid tensions over a map recently released by Beijing laying claim to contested waters in the South China Sea.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang said in his opening remarks that political mutual trust between China and ASEAN has grown deeper and that trust is a bridge that connects minds no matter how the international situation evolves.

“As long as we keep to the right path, no matter what storm may come, China-ASEAN cooperation will be as firm as ever and forge ahead against all forms,” Li said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for “realizing mutually beneficial concrete collaboration,” saying it can be achieved “if we have mutual trust.” Indonesia is this year’s chair of the regional group.

The new map issued by China’s Natural Resources Ministry in late August has triggered protests from ASEAN members Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. A line drawn on the map shows nearly all of the South China Sea as part of Chinese territory.

A draft chairman’s statement on the China-ASEAN summit noted concerns expressed by some ASEAN members about land reclamation in the South China Sea and damage to the marine environment, saying it has “eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region.”

Beijing has undertaken a massive land reclamation program in contested waters of the sea, building military and civilian facilities on islands and reefs claimed by a number of other nations, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Manila insists Beijing’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea has been invalidated by a 2016 ruling by a Netherlands-based international tribunal. But China has ignored the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

By Perviz Mughal