Beijing Reports Pact on Seas

Posted on June 27, 2011


Protests against Chinese claims to territory in the South China Sea continued in Hanoi on Sunday, unimpeded by Vietnamese authorities.

BEIJING—China said it had reached an agreement with Vietnam to resolve a growing territorial dispute in the South China Sea, though Vietnamese officials didn’t comment on the announcement and anti-Chinese demonstrations continued in Hanoi.

The two countries would “peacefully resolve maritime disputes through negotiations and friendly consultations,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement after state councilor Dai Bingguo met Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son in Beijing on Saturday.

The statement didn’t go into any detail on how the countries would resolve the dispute, which has simmered for years and flared again after Vietnam recently accused China of impeding a state-owned oil exploration vessel.

The South China Sea is claimed in whole or part by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia, and is thought to hold significant reserves of oil and natural gas, which China in particular needs to fuel its booming economy.

China says disputes with its neighbors need to be handled bilaterally, and responded indignantly last year to statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the U.S. was prepared to help facilitate multiparty talks to resolve the conflict. U.S. diplomats said this month the U.S. wouldn’t take sides in the dispute, but would protect its significant interests in the region.

A senior Chinese diplomat, in unusually stark language, told foreign journalists last week the U.S. needed to stay out of its regional disputes.

“I believe some countries now are playing with fire,” said Cui Tiankai, vice minister of foreign affairs. “And I hope the U.S. won’t be burned by this fire.”

Mr. Cui met in Hawaii on Saturday with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who told reporters in Washington before the meetings that the U.S. didn’t plan to “fan the flames” of the dispute, the Associated Press reported.

Vietnam and the Philippines have appeared to more closely align themselves with the U.S. in the dispute. The U.S. is scheduled to stage joint naval exercises with both countries, though the participants stress they are part of regular cooperation and not a result of the current flare-up of the tensions.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III last week praised a strong U.S. naval presence in the region, which he said deters aggression and ensures freedom of navigation. Vietnam on Friday issued a joint statement with the U.S. that called for freedom of navigation of the seas, as well as a “collaborative, diplomatic process.”

Some security analysts say such efforts to internationalize the conflict have stoked an increasingly belligerent response from China. China is rapidly modernizing its navy and preparing to launch its first aircraft carrier, which some in the region worry will aggravate maritime disputes.

Vietnamese demonstrators in Hanoi on Sunday continued anti-Chinese protests for the fourth straight week, as authorities have allowed them to continue.

About 100 people marched through the capital’s streets, some carrying signs accusing China of invading its territorial waters, the AP reported.

Brian Spegele

China, Vietnam vow to cool S. China Sea tensions

Protesters rallied in the Vietnamese capital for the fourth weekend in a row over the territorial dispute (AFP, Hoang Dinh Nam)

BEIJING — China and Vietnam pledged to resolve a row over the strategic South China Sea, state media said Sunday, in a bid to ease tensions that prompted accusations of Chinese bullying in the region.

The apparent olive branch between the testy neighbours came as the United States and Philippines readied for joint naval exercises in the face of Chinese actions and after the US called for Beijing to help lower the temperature.

Several recent incidents have put the security spotlight on the South China Sea, a strategic and potentially oil-rich area where China has sometimes overlapping disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Recently, Vietnam carried out live-fire drills and the Philippines ordered the deployment of its naval flagship after accusing China of aggressive actions.

Representatives of China and Vietnam met in Beijing for weekend talks and agreed to resolve their maritime territorial disputes “peacefully”, China’s Xinhua news agency said on Sunday.

They pledged to reach a “peaceful resolution of the maritime dispute between the two countries through negotiations and friendly consultations,” it said.

The joint vow was made in a meeting on Saturday between Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo, China’s senior foreign-policy official, and Vietnamese Vice Foreign Minister Ho Xuan Son.

They agreed to take measures to “safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea”, work toward an agreement on addressing maritime disputes and seek speedy implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

The latter is a pact signed in 2002 between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to prevent conflict until the myriad territorial disputes are resolved.

However, the report gave no details on specific steps to be taken or a timetable.

The United States on Saturday called for China to lower tensions through dialogue as they held talks on frictions in Southeast Asia.

Senior US official Kurt Campbell said he assured China during the talks in Hawaii that the United States welcomed a strong role for Beijing, which has warned Washington against involvement in the intensifying disputes.

“We want tensions to subside. We have a strong interest in the maintenance in peace and stability, and we are seeking a dialogue among all of the key players,” said Campbell, assistant secretary of state of East Asian and Pacific affairs.

China has in the past rejected calls for multi-lateral talks on the South China Sea disputes, insisting on one-on-one contacts with other claimants.

Vietnam has accused Chinese ships of recently ramming an oil survey ship and cutting the exploration cables of another.

Meanwhile, Philippine President Benigno Aquino this month accused China of inciting at least seven incidents recently, including one in which a Chinese vessel allegedly opened fire on Filipino fishermen.

As tension climbed, China staged its own three days of naval exercises in the South China Sea.

The United States has stepped into the fray, pledging to support the defence of its longtime ally the Philippines and help modernise its cash-strapped military.

“We are determined and committed to supporting the defence of the Philippines,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week.

The two countries will hold 11 days of naval exercises starting Tuesday off the southwestern Philippines in a show of unity.

Vietnam and the United States also are to hold joint naval activities next month but they were long-planned and are unconnected to the recent tensions, the US Navy has said.

The South China Sea has long been considered one of Asia’s potential military flashpoints due to the overlapping claims.

That fear has risen as China has worked to upgrade its military in recent years and made more strident declarations of its claims.


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