Southeast Asian foreign ministers say land reclamation in the South China Sea has “increased tensions” in the area. The statement came Thursday after members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ended talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The ministers debated for days about how to word their final declaration. The group, known as ASEAN, expressed “serious concerns” about China’s effort to develop parts of the South China Sea. It said some ministers are worried the activities may “undermine peace, security and stability.”
The declaration said that China and ASEAN members will move to what it called the “next stage” of discussions on a system of rules for behavior at sea.
Earlier Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry directly called on China to stop building man-made islands in the South China Sea. He also urged China to halt its efforts to develop disputed lands.
Mr. Kerry said it was “essential” to guarantee freedom of movement for shipping and aircraft in the area.
“Despite assurances that these freedoms will be respected, we have seen warnings issued and restrictions attempted in recent months," he said.
"Let me be clear: The United States will not accept restrictions on freedom of navigation and overflight, or other lawful uses of the sea,” he said.
Mr. Kerry urged the countries to agree to stop the development and militarization of features in the South China Sea to lower tensions.
China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines have conflicting claims in the area. But this year, China sped up its island reclamation efforts and built an airstrip as proof of its claim. The Chinese efforts were much larger than those efforts of its neighbors.
On Wednesday, China Foreign Minister Wang Yi said his country had stopped its land reclamation projects. The U.S. Secretary of State said he hopes that is true, but has not confirmed it.
In addition to the South China Sea, the ASEAN diplomats discussed a number of other issues. They agreed to support the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
In a statement, the ministers said if the deal is fully carried out, it will "contribute to building confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."
Also on Thursday, Secretary of State Kerry marked the 70th anniversary of the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. "It is impossible not to have thoughts about it," he said after meeting with Japan’s Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida.
Mr. Kerry said the anniversary was a powerful reminder of the effect of war on people and countries. He added that it showed the importance of agreements like the Iran nuclear deal “to reduce the possibility of more nuclear weapons.”
An estimated 140,000 people were killed as a result of the August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. An additional 70,000 more were killed when U.S. planes dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki three days later.
The U.S. and its allies said the bombings helped bring an end to World War Two.
I’m Mario Ritter.
VOA correspondents Pam Dockins and Steve Herman reported on this story. Mario Ritter adapted their stories for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
undermine – v. to cause damage or harm
stability – n. the quality of something that is not easily changed or moved
essential – adj. extremely important or necessary
assurances – n. a strong statement that something will take place or that something is true
features – n. qualities or physical appearance of something