Plans for a ceremonial joint statement at the end of a Southeast Asian regional defense forum were dropped on Wednesday after differences between China and the United States over the mention of disputes in the South China Sea in the document.
Officials from Malaysia, which is hosting the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) defense chiefs meeting, did not immediately comment on reasons for the cancellation. However, in a revised schedule of the day's program, the signing ceremony for the 'Kuala Lumpur Joint Declaration' was dropped.
Earlier, a senior U.S. defense official said China was lobbying Southeast Asian nations to drop any reference to concerns over the South China Sea in the statement.
"The reason is because the Chinese lobbied to keep any reference to the South China Sea out of the final joint declaration," the official said, on condition of anonymity.
"Understandably a number of ASEAN countries felt that was inappropriate. It reflects the divide China's reclamation and militarisation in the South China Sea has caused in the region." The U.S. official added, "This was an ASEAN decision but in our view no statement is better than one that avoids the important issue of China's reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea."