By Leng Shumei (Global Times)
China’s foreign ministry called on Singapore to respect China’s stance on the South China Sea issue on Tuesday, a further indication that China is upset about Singapore’s enthusiasm for an increasing US presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing that China hopes countries will remain fair and objective over the South China Sea disputes.
Without mentioning the name, Geng admitted having noticed a recent Chinese newspaper report saying that Singapore had insisted on rendering the issue into the final document of the 17th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit, which was held on September 17 and 18 at Venezuela’s Margarita Island. More than 100 countries attended the summit, including Vietnam and Laos.
“The facts are clear. Individual countries insisted on highlighting the South China Sea-related contents in the outcome document, but failed to do so, because they did not secure the approval of the majority of NAM members and these contents did not represent the consensus of parties related to the South China Sea issue,” Geng said.
The NAM Summit was not an appropriate forum to discuss the South China Sea issue and the final document of the summit should be based on the long-held consensus principle to reflect all the member countries’ common views, Geng said. He noted that the situation in the South China Sea is moving in a positive direction under joint efforts from China and ASEAN members.
Analysts said Singapore’s action at the NAM summit would hurt bilateral relations.
“Singapore has advocated its support for the South China Sea arbitration award many times inside the ASEAN grouping. It has been getting closer to the US after former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s death, seeking to maximize its own interests in the Asia-Pacific region by using the US to contain China’s regional influence,” Zhuang Guotu, head of the Center of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Sino-Singaporean relations have been dampened by Singapore’s improper actions at the NAM Summit, though future relations are still bright, given the strengthening economic and maritime cooperation in the region, Zhuang said.
The Global Times published an online article on its Chinese website last week saying that the NAM chair country Venezuela on September 18 refused Singapore’s request to include an endorsement for the South China Sea arbitration award into the final document of the summit.
According to the source, the Singaporean delegation was infuriated when most of the countries objected to its request and spoke rudely to these countries’ representatives, the report said.
Singapore also kept harping on the issue at the summit, delaying conferences into the night on many occasions and causing antipathy among other countries, according to the source.
In his open letter, Singapore’s ambassador to China, Stanley Loh Ka Leung, called the Global Times report an “irresponsible report replete with fabrications and unfounded allegations.”
Loh said that “the Singapore delegation did not raise the South China Sea or the tribunal ruling at the NAM Summit.”
He noted that “the paragraphs on Southeast Asia, including those referring to the South China Sea, have been part of the NAM Final Document since 1992 and regularly updated based on the common position of the ASEAN countries.”
The editor-in-chief of the Global Times, Hu Xijin, Tuesday stood his ground against Loh’s accusation.
“The article was based on a serious and reliable source who attended the summit and the reporter has done solid and serious interviews,” Hu said, reiterating that the article “is telling the truth.”
Hu pointed out that Loh had admitted in his open letter that the NAM chair country Venezuela refused a Singaporean request at the summit, but did not mention what request it was or why it was turned down.
“The Global Times article has addressed the ‘what’ and ‘why’ that you had failed to touch upon,” Hu said.
Hu also accused Singapore of favoring the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea disputes and damaging China’s interests by approving the deployment of four US littoral combat ships and anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft in the country.
“Everyone knows these weapons are targeted at China,” Hu wrote.