VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday stressed the importance of complying with a rules-based international system in a meeting with his counterparts from South East Asia shortly after they were unable to agree on a statement criticizing China for territorial expansion in the South China Sea.
Kerry met with the foreign ministers from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a regional security conference in Laos on Monday and made no direct mention of the South China Sea tensions between China and its smaller neighbors. But, he did praise ASEAN generally for speaking up for "a rules-based international system that protects the rights of all nations whether big or small."
Kerry wrapped up brief public remarks by noting "how much can be accomplished when we work together, invest in the future, and perhaps most importantly support the rules-based system that has led to steadily increased peace and prosperity for nearly 50 years now."
Earlier Monday, ASEAN, however, omitted any mention of the most recent and potentially most relevant "rules-based" decision for the bloc: a July 12 international arbitration panel ruling in a dispute between the Philippines and China that said Beijing's claims in the South China Sea were illegal.
After hectic negotiations, the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations issued a watered-down rebuke that amounted to less than a slap on the wrist, and exposed the deep divisions in a regional body that prides itself on unity.
China is bitterly opposed to the decision, has rejected it and vowed to ignore it. The U.S. has urged both China and the Philippines to respect the ruling. Kerry is to meet later Monday in Vientiane with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and on Tuesday will travel to Manila for talks with new Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.