China has scored a diplomatic victory at the Asean summit in the Laotian capital of Vientiane by not coming in for major criticism over its claims in the South China Sea. After tense negotiations, foreign ministers of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed concern over "recent and ongoing developments in the South China Sea". This is seen as mere admonition despite some of the Asean members being victims of China's actions.

In a joint communique, the ministers said: "We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea," the Associated Press reported.

"We further reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation."

Failure to arrive at a collective decision to reprimand China, after Cambodia stymied the bloc from discussing the maritime dispute, is thought to have exposed the divisions within Asean which takes pride in being united. There was no reference to The Hague ruling in the statement. The tribunal ruled on 12 July that the vast territorial claims by China in the South China Sea are illegal.

Malcolm Cook, an analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies told the Associated Press: "Certainly, Cambodia's paralysis of Asean... hurts Asean's unity, cohesion, relevance and reputation. It makes Asean peripheral, not central, on this issue."

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay
Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay reportedly praised the international tribunal's verdict on South China Sea during a meeting of the Asean foreign ministers meeting in Vientiane, Laos on 25 July, 2016REUTERS/Jorge Silva