Singapore rebuts newspaper report on South China Sea ruling

Singapore rebuts newspaper report on South China Sea ruling
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Reuters File Photo
A Chinese tabloid claimed the Republic tried to raise the international tribunal’s ruling at the Non-Aligned Movement summit
Published: 11:50 AM, September 27, 2016
Updated: 1:29 PM, September 27, 2016

SINGAPORE — Singapore has rebutted a report in an influential state-owned Chinese tabloid which claimed that the Republic had tried to push for a stronger statement on an international tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit last week in Venezuela.

In a letter to Mr Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, Singapore’s ambassador to China Stanley Loh said its article had attributed actions and words to Singapore which are “false and unfounded.”

“We are disappointed that an established newspaper published this irresponsible report replete with fabrications and unfounded allegations with no regard for the facts,” he said.

The Global Times newspaper is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily. In an article in its Chinese edition on Sept 21 which cited unnamed sources, it claimed that during discussions on the outcome documents at the NAM meeting, Singapore “insisted on shoving in content endorsing the Philippines’ South China Sea arbitration case” but “the attempt failed due to strong objections from multiple countries”.

In its ruling on July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague had invalidated Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea and found that China had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights there. China has vowed to ignore the ruling.

The Global Times report also alleged that Singapore’s representative to the NAM meeting used “offensive language in his arguments and made malicious attacks on the representatives of countries adhering to fair and objective positions,” adding that “a large number of representatives expressed dissatisfaction with Singapore’s disregard for the unity of NAM members and open challenges to NAM procedures and norms.”

Rebutting the report, Mr Loh said: “Contrary to the claim fabricated by the Global Times, the Singapore delegation did not raise the South China Sea or the tribunal ruling at the NAM Summit.”

“Singapore adopted a principled position throughout and intervened to support the common position of Asean (Association of South-east Asian Nations) and defend NAM principles and established practices,” Mr Loh added in his letter on Monday (Sept 26).

“Singapore believes that it is detrimental to the unity, impartiality and future of the NAM to allow NAM principles to be undermined.”

The Singapore envoy added that Asean — through its chairman Laos — had conveyed its common position on the South China Sea in July to former NAM Chair Iran, which circulated Asean’s update to all NAM members on July 29.

But at last week’s summit, current NAM Chair Venezuela refused Asean’s request to abide by the established practice in NAM for regional groupings to update the paragraphs of their respective regions in the NAM Final Document without interference from non-regional NAM countries or external parties, said Mr Loh.

“If this important principle is not respected, any non-regional NAM member or external element could in future impose their views on any regional issue. This is not in the interests of the NAM and its members,” he added, noting that the paragraphs on South-east 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.

He added that Laos had protested on behalf of all 10 Asean countries to the NAM Chair on its decision to reject ASEAN’s updates and at the end of the NAM Summit, Laos had written to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister to put on record Asean’s collective reservation to a paragraph in the Southeast Asia section of the NAM Final Document that was not updated.

Mr Loh also attached a copy of the Laos letter to Venezuela in his response to the Global Times.

“The proposal to update the South-east Asia paragraphs in the NAM Final Document was not done at the last minute nor by any single Asean country,” Mr Loh wrote.

“There was a common and united Asean position. It was a consensus position of all 10 Asean members, based on agreed language from the Joint Communique of the 49th Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting.”

TODAY understands that Global Times has not published Mr Loh’s letter.