Wednesday, October 10, 2012

• U.S., China square off on claims to S. China Sea



U.S., China square off on claims to S. China Sea
Beijing urged to accept way to solve disputes

by By Bradley Klapper - Associated Press - Thursday, July 12, 2012



PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — The Obama administration wants Beijing to accept a code of conduct for resolving territorial disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea, a difficult U.S. mediation effort that has faced resistance from the communist government - although it has endeared the U.S. to once-hostile countries in Southeast Asia.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations‘ annual conference Thursday.

Sitting across from each other at a long table in a grand hall with chandeliers, Mrs. Clinton stressed the different ways Washington and Beijing are cooperating. Mr. Yang spoke of building an even closer U.S.-Chinese relationship.

Neither side spoke about the South China Sea while reporters were allowed in the room.

Several Asian governments have expressed worry about China’s expansive maritime claims. Tensions have threatened to boil over in recent months, with a standoff between Chinese and Philippine ships, and sharp disagreements between China and Vietnam.

China claims virtually the entire area and has created an entirely new city to administer it, sparking deep concern from rival claimants. The sea hosts about a third of the world’s cargo traffic, has rich fishing grounds and is believed to store vast oil and gas reserves.

“The United States has no territorial claims there, and we do not take sides in disputes about territorial or maritime boundaries,” Mrs. Clinton told foreign ministers gathered in Cambodia’s capital. “But we do have an interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea.”

Later Thursday, Mrs. Clinton told delegates the U.S. is “intensely focused” on how countries are handling the different claims, singling out “confrontational behavior” in the disputed Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines, including the denial of access to other vessels.

The actions she cited were China‘s, though she didn’t mention the offending country by name.

According to Filipino officials, at different points earlier this year the Chinese attached fishing nets to ropes held by buoys to block entry to the sprawling lagoon at Scarborough Shoal, or tied several dinghies together with ropes.

One official said the barriers were washed away by waves in recent storms. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“None of us can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric and disagreements over resource exploitation,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We have seen worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and government vessels in connection with disputes among fishermen. There have been a variety of national measures taken that create friction and further complicate efforts to resolve disputes.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations‘ 10 members announced this week that they have drafted a set of rules governing maritime rights and navigation, and procedures for when governments disagree. But China is not a member of the group, and it hasn’t agreed to anything.

The countries are presenting their proposal to China at this week’s conference, though Beijing probably will want to water down any language that ties its hands.


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Clinton pushes China on maritime pact
By Guy Taylor - The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2012



Photo by: Brendan Smialowski

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a press conference at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Brendon Smialowski, Pool)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that she hopes China will work diplomatically with its regional partners toward “finalizing a code of conduct” for resolving territorial disputes over the oil-rich South China Sea.

“Nations of the region should work … diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and certainly without the use of force,” said Mrs. Clinton, who is attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference in Cambodia.

Her remarks represent the latest U.S. attempt to counter what several of the region’s smaller nations perceive to be illegal and aggressive Chinese claims over exploration rights in the South China Sea.

“No nation can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric, and disagreements over resource exploitation,” Mrs. Clinton said Wednesday.

Analysts have suggested that joint U.S.-Philippine military drills, along with an expansion of U.S-Australian military relations last year, were driven partly by Washington’s desire to send a message to China that its growing military presence will not go undeterred.

Mrs. Clinton, however, told reporters Wednesday that “the United States has no territorial claims in the South China Sea, and we do not take sides in disputes about territorial or maritime boundaries.”

“But we do have a fundamental interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton stressed that the task of nailing down an international framework for resolving disputes over such activities should not be dominated by one nation, but managed diplomatically by all 10 members of ASEAN.

“It’s not up to the United States,” she said. “It’s not up to China. It’s up to ASEAN.”

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U.S. urges China to open talks on South China Sea
by Arshad Mohammed and Martin Petty- PHNOM PENH | Thu Jul 12, 2012 4:08pm EDT



(Reuters) - The United States urged China to open talks with Southeast Asian nations on Thursday to calm tensions over their rival claims to the potentially oil-rich and increasingly militarized South China Sea.

While U.S. and Chinese officials sounded conciliatory notes as they met at an annual forum for regional foreign ministers, it remained unclear whether China was willing to seriously engage on rules of the road for the strategic waters.

Long-simmering tensions in the waters have entered a more contentious chapter this year as the six parties who claim the territory search deeper for energy supplies while building up their navies and defense alliances.

"No nation can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric, and disagreements over resource exploitation," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters.

"We have seen worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and government vessels in connection with disputes among fisherman," she added, echoing comments she made to her fellow ministers earlier in the day.

Clinton said any "code of conduct" for the South China Sea should create a framework for preventing and resolving disputes, saying that trying to settle matters bilaterally "could be a recipe for confusion and even confrontation".

Clinton, attending the Asean Regional Forum in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, called on all parties to refrain from issuing threats, and advocated all-party dialogue to address rival claims to the waters.

"We now look to ASEAN and China to make meaningful progress toward finalizing this code," she said.

As he began talks with Clinton, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Beijing was ready to work with Washington "to expand our common ground, respect each other, properly handle differences on sensitive issues, and push forward" relations.

Echoing Yang's conciliatory tone, Clinton said agreements to work together on climate change, disaster warning and response, energy policy and other matters showed that "the United States and China not only can, but will work together in Asia".

However, her stance on the South China Sea was likely to upset Beijing, which wants to take a bilateral approach to resolving the row.

A U.S. official said Yang had given Clinton a "careful indication" China was willing to work with Southeast Asian countries as a group on the proposed code. He said China had suggested to other countries it could start talks in September.

However, the maritime issue is extremely complex and sensitive, and could take years to resolve.

Beijing claims the South China Sea as its territory based on historical records and has said China has "indisputable sovereignty" over the area.

The Philippines and China only recently stepped back from a months-long standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, a horseshoe shaped reef in waters they both claim - the latest round of naval brinkmanship over the heavily trafficked waters.

The United States has stressed it is neutral in the long-running maritime dispute, despite offering to help boost the Philippines' decrepit military forces. China has warned that "external forces" should not get involved.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea.

CLAIMANTS SEEK CODE OF CONDUCT

Estimates of potential oil reserves in the area range as high as 213 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a 2008 report. That would surpass every country's except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the BP Statistical Review.

U.S. President Barack Obama has sought to reassure regional allies that Washington would serve as a counterbalance to a newly assertive China in the South China Sea, part of his campaign to "pivot" U.S. foreign policy more intensely on Asia after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States says stability is its concern in the waterway, which carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade, accounting for half the world's shipping tonnage.

The 10-state Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc is seeking a maritime code of conduct for the seas and wants China to be involved in the consultation, but it has yet to commit to the process, which has so far been vague.