Southeast Asian governments are concerned that the increasingly vocal US comments about the South China Sea disputes could alienate China.
While Western politicians usually like their foreign policy statements bold and clear, the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) prefer the softly-softly approach.
An initial draft of the statement to be issued at the end of Friday's US-Asean summit, prepared by the Philippines, opposed the "use or threat of force by any claimant attempting to enforce disputed claims in the South China Sea," according to an AP report.
But, according to the Bangkok Post, Asean leaders pushed the US to remove any direct reference to the South China Sea for fear of angering China.
Kasit Piromya, Thailand's foreign minister, told the paper:
"We have discussed the South China Sea issue at the Asean Regional Forum to which all the claimant states are members. It might be inappropriate if Asean and the US discuss this issue without China being present. We don't want to be seen as trying to gang up with the US against China."
And Asean appeared to have won this particular diplomatic debate, with the final joint statement not mentioning the South China Sea, saying only:
"We reaffirmed the importance of regional peace and stability, maritime security, unimpeded commerce, and freedom of navigation, in accordance with relevant universally agreed principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other international maritime law, and the peaceful settlement of disputes."
However, the White House's official "read-out" of President Barack Obama's meeting with the Asean leaders makes an overt mention of the South China Sea:
"The President and the leaders also agreed on the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of navigation, regional stability, and respect for international law, including in the South China Sea."
Sometimes, you have to wonder why diplomats bother with such circumlocutions.