VIENTIANE -- China successfully kept the lid on the South China Sea dispute throughout a series of major international gatherings, wooing members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and casting Japan and the U.S. as outsiders on the issue.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was all smiles at the ASEAN summit and related meetings this week here in the Laotian capital. He cajoled ASEAN members through promises of Chinese investment and aid, all while striking a conciliatory tone.
The regional bloc urged that territorial rows be resolved "by sovereign states directly concerned" in a joint statement issued Wednesday, echoing Beijing's official stance.
China was especially successful in swaying the Philippines, which had challenged Beijing's maritime claims in the South China Sea at an international arbitration tribunal.
The Philippines signing the ASEAN statement was the biggest accomplishment, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said, expressing his confidence that talks between Manila and Beijing will continue under a new framework. Li also shook hands and chatted with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday.
But many resent Beijing for ignoring its international obligations and forcing its position onto other countries. "It is much too immature," a longtime ASEAN diplomat said. While the emerging giant has succeeded in glossing over the issue for now, the seeds of conflict remain.