Tensions rise on South China Sea dispute

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Tom Allard
November 17, 2011

TENSIONS over the oil-rich and strategically important South China Sea escalated yesterday, as Chinese state media accused the US and the Philippines of planning a ”grab” for its resources and a senior foreign ministry official said it did not want the issue discussed at this week’s East Asia Summit in Bali.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday in Manila that the US ”will certainly expect and participate in very open and frank discussions” on the topic at the summit, which will be attended by US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The looming confrontation over the South China Sea threatens to overshadow the East Asia Summit, a grouping of nations based on the south-east Asian countries of ASEAN that has emerged as the prime forum for security and political discussions in the Asia-Pacific region.

The South China Sea is a potential flashpoint between the US and China as the two powers seek to assert their interests in Asia, the fastest-growing region in the world.

The US has leapt on nervousness among smaller Asian nations about China’s growing military might and bellicose diplomacy to reassert its long-standing role as an anchor of security in Asia, even as its economic importance wanes. Before Mrs Clinton’s visit to Manila and the East Asia Summit, which the US will attend for the first time, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said: ”Now that Obama is scheduled to appear at the ASEAN Summit, the Philippines will embrace the ‘golden chance’ to get back at China, again churning up the South China Sea.”

The Global Times, another Chinese government mouthpiece, said the Philippines, aided and abetted by the US, was intent on ”grabbing resources from Chinese water”. ”We hope the South China Sea will not be discussed at the East Asia Summit,” Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said.

Mrs Clinton yesterday signed a declaration with her Philippines counterpart, Albert del Rosario, aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald in Manila Bay, to boost defence co-operation between the two countries and calling for multilateral talks on the South China Sea.

The Philippines is one of six countries claiming part or all of an archipelago in the South China Sea known as the Spratly Islands, which are believed to lie above significant oil and gas reserves. The area is also of high strategic value as a vital sea lane for much of the world’s trade.

This year, Chinese and Philippines naval ships have had skirmishes with fishermen and other vessels each country believed had been encroaching on its territory.

While many of the claimants – which also include Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei – want multilateral talks to solve the dispute, China insists on one-on-one negotiations.

Burma is set to chair the 2014 ASEAN and East Asian summits after members said its political reforms meant it was now a suitable candidate for the role.

The US, Australia and other participants still have sanctions in place against Burma but have cautiously welcomed the release of political prisoners and other reform in a country that was run by a military junta for decades until elections this year.

ASEAN foreign ministers ”all recognize the important and significant developments taking place in [Burma]”, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.

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Posted on November 16, 2011, in China, Energy, GEOPOLITICS, Natural Gas, Oil, Political economy, South China Sea and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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