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Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called on all parties in a dispute over control of the South China Sea to exercise restraint in the wake of a landmark international tribunal decision that has delivered a rebuff to China’s claims to almost all of the strategically important waterway.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the ministry called for “restraint with regard to activities that could increase tension and to refrain from threats or use of force”.
The statement comes a day after a tribunal in The Hague ruled unanimously in favour of the Philippines in its claims that China had acted illegally by constructing artificial islands within the disputed waters. The tribunal also rejected China’s claim to sovereignty over the ninety percent of the sea contained within a “nine-dash line” that appears on official Chinese maps.
The issue of China’s claims has been a source of tension within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), four of whose members — the Phillippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei — are engaged in disputes with China over territory in the resource-rich South China Sea, which also carries an estimated US$5 trillion in annual trade.
At the close of the 24th ASEAN Summit in May 2014, when Burma was chair of the regional grouping, members scrambled to reach a consensus after China positioned a huge oil rig in an area also claimed by Vietnam.
Although the bloc has not openly split over the issue, some members that are heavily dependent on Chinese aid and investment, such as Cambodia and Laos, have been reluctant to criticise China’s often heavy-handed approach to individual disputes, which it insists must be resolved through bilateral negotiations.
In its statement on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry reiterated its calls for “peaceful resolution of disputes through friendly consultations and negotiations”.
China did not take part in the arbitration, and said the verdict reached by the tribunal was “null”.
Speaking soon after the decision was announced, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “Chinese people will not accept the result and all people around the world who uphold justice will not accept the result.”