China Says No Questioning Its Sovereignty Over South China Sea

Posted on September 9, 2012


Clinton Says U.S. Will Stand Up For Strategic Interests

Hillary Clinton visited Beijing this week at the height of Communist Party maneuvering over the formation of a new Chinese government.  Given that timing, she found no room for compromise over competing territorial claims by China and its neighbors over the South China Sea.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister exchange views on the South China Sea at a news conference in Beijing Sept. 5. Photo: AP/Feng Li, Pool

“China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters,” Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi told her bluntly. “There is plentiful historical and jurisprudential evidence for that.”

And as for competing claims to the islands and waters by the likes of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia Taiwan and others, Yang had this to say:

“As for the dispute over the sovereignty of some islands and reefs of the Nansha (Spratly) Islands and the overlapping rights, interests, and claims over some waters of the South China Sea, these should be discussed by the directly concerned countries on the basis of the fact – of historical fact and international law, and handled and settled through direct negotiations and friendly consultation.”

Bilateral or Multilateral?

In other words, China was going to deal with its neighbors’ claims in one-on-one bilateral negotiations, not the multilateral talks concept being promoted by the United States. Beijing’s approach, said Yang, was fully in keeping with an existing “declaration of conduct” between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

During her talks in Beijing, Clinton pushed back, saying the United States believes a more specific “code of conduct” with ASEAN is a better way to resolve the competing claims between China and its neighbors. She hastened to add that Washington was taking no position on the individual territorial claims, just pressing for a negotiating framework.

“Our interest is in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and unimpeded lawful commerce,” Clinton said. “As a friend to the countries involved, we do believe it is in everyone’s interest that China and ASEAN engage in a diplomatic process toward the shared goal of a code of conduct.”

China has been critical of outside — read that U.S. — involvement in the rival maritime claims, saying foreign governments are stoking mistrust and enmity between China and its neighbors. To drive that point home, Clinton was welcomed to Beijing with reports in state-run media that many Chinese don’t like her.

“U.S. power is declining and it hasn’t enough economic strength or resources to dominate the Asia-Pacific region,” the official news agency, Xinhua, said in a commentary.

Yang did promise to “eventually” start talks with ASEAN over a code of conduct. But by agreeing to discuss terms for resolving a dispute, China seemed certain it has already won the argument. The move also put Clinton in the position of having to keep the more belligerent of the rival claimants to South China Sea territory — Vietnam and the Philippines — on board with a multi-lateral ASEAN solution.

Timing is important

Again, the timing of Clinton’s visit — in the middle of a leadership transition — may have contributed to the tone of her reception in China. There are also Beijing’s suspicions about the Obama administration’s greater military and economic involvement in the region — the so-called “Asia Pivot.”

So Clinton faced a steady stream of nationalism from officials apparently auditioning for a role in the new government.

“As for the United States policy towards the Asia Pacific region,” Yang told reporters at the Great Hall of the People, “we have always hoped that the United States would size up the situation and make sure that its policy is in conformity with the trends of our current era and the general wish of countries in the region to seek peace, development, and cooperation.”

Despite her rough reception in Beijing, Clinton says there was an important exchange of views ahead of this week’s summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, this month’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly and November’s East Asia Summit.

“The United States — certainly I, am not going to shy away from standing up for our strategic interests and expressing clearly where we differ,” Clinton said of the Beijing reception. “The mark of a mature relationship, whether it is between nations or people, is not whether we agree on everything, because that is highly unlikely between nations and people, but whether we can work through the issues that are difficult.”


Clinton urges feuding Asian neighbors to cool it

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Asian countries embroiled in simmering territorial disputes to work together to ease rather than raise tensions.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda before their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, on Sept. 9 (The Asahi Shimbun)

Recent flare-ups between Japan and China, China and many of its other neighbors, and Japan and South Korea have soured ties, prompting some leaders not to schedule their usual one-on-one meetings at a Pacific Rim summit that ended Sunday in the far-eastern Russian seaport of Vladivostok.

‘‘Whether we’re talking about the South China Sea or the East China Sea, my message has been the same to everyone,’’ Clinton told reporters. ‘‘Now is the time for everyone to make efforts to reduce the tensions and strengthen diplomatic involvement toward resolving these tensions.’’

Given the weakness of the global recovery, any confrontation that might raise doubts over stability and peace in the region would not be in anyone’s interest, said Clinton, who was attending the summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on behalf of President Barack Obama.

Clinton said she discussed the territorial issue with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, which are at odds over an islet claimed by both.

‘‘I raised these issues with both of them, urging that their interests really lie in making sure that they lower the temperature and work together in a concerted way to have a calm and restrained approach,’’ she said.

‘‘There does seem to be a recognition on the part of all of the leaders that this region of the world is the economic engine in what is still a fragile global economy,’’ Clinton said.

Clinton said she would work closely with the various Asian countries to help ensure the disputes do not balloon into more serious problems.

‘‘We can’t let anything happen. It’s not in the interests of any of the Asian countries and it’s certainly not in the interests of the United States or the rest of the world to raise doubts and uncertainties about the stability and peace in the region,’’ she said.

Territorial disputes were not on the formal agenda of APEC, whose brief is to promote economic integration and more open trade.

As would be expected at a diplomatic event, despite recent acrimony over the territorial disputes, there were shows of civility. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, seated beside each other at the leaders’ ‘‘informal retreat,’’ were seen shaking hands as they sat down.

Noda and Chinese President Hu Jintao likewise were seen briefly chatting between meetings.

Afterward, Noda told reporters he had expressed his sympathy for the victims of an earthquake Friday in southwestern China that killed dozens of people.

‘‘As for the Japan-China relationship, China’s growth is a chance for the world and we would like to develop it in a strategic manner,’’ Noda said.

Noda noted that Japan also needs to work with South Korea on issues related to rival North Korea, among other things.

Many of the disputed islands are only rock outcroppings, uninhabited or rarely visited. But nationalist fervor has inflamed public sentiment across the region, provoking violent protests in China.

The friction is partly driven by China’s increasingly assertive stance regarding its claims over resource-rich waters to the south and east. But the disputes also reflect pressures on relatively weak leaders anxious over public opinion, experts say.

Earlier during her Asian tour, Clinton urged members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations to present a united front to China in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea. She also discussed the issue with Chinese leaders during meetings in Beijing this week.

Associated Press

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Japan and South Korea to cool tempers in their showdown over contested islands, as part of a wider U.S. effort to defuse rising regional tensions stoked by maritime disputes.

“I raised these issues with both of them,” Clinton said yesterday after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vladivostok, Russia. She said she told the countries’ leaders “that their interests really lie in making sure that they lower the temperature and work together in a concerted way to have a calm and restrained approach.”

Noda didn’t have bilateral meetings with the leaders of South Korea or China at the summit, only holding brief discussions with Lee and President Hu Jintao of China, with which Japan also has a dispute. A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Qin Gang, said Sept. 8 that Japan should “pay attention” to his country’s resolve to safeguard its sovereignty.

Clinton, who yesterday wrapped up a six-nation, 11-day tour, has tried to douse a diplomatic showdown between U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, as well as conflicts in the South China Sea, through which half of the world’s commercial cargo flows. The escalating tensions, which come ahead of leadership changes in Japan, South Korea and China, have hurt Japanese companies such as Nissan Motor Co. (7201) doing business in China.

Easing Tensions

Noda tried to dial back tensions at the summit in Vladivostok, saying he had told Hu and Lee in their informal meetings that it was important to preserve and deepen ties. Noda said he also told Lee that ties between their countries were important because of the threat posed by North Korea.

“I said let’s build ties based on the big picture,” Noda told reporters.

The dispute with South Korea reignited after Lee made a surprise Aug. 10 visit to the islets, known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, which Noda called “unacceptable.”

China has condemned Japan’s plan to buy islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, lying in the East China Sea near oil and gas reserves. Noda’s government is in talks to buy the islands from a private Japanese owner, a plan that was set off by an attempted purchase by Tokyo Governor and China critic Shintaro Ishihara.

The spat sparked anti-Japanese protests last month in China, which have affected deliveries for Nissan, Japan’s biggest automaker by sales in China. Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga said Sept. 6 that the company had reduced the number of promotional activities on the advice of Chinese authorities in the wake of the demonstrations.

Common Ground

“Extending the hand of friendship and seeking to find common ground on these issues is a positive development,” Glenn Maguire, chief economist at consultant Asia Sentry Advisory Pty Ltd. in Sydney, said yesterday in e-mail. “With three separate territorial disputes, the risk for the Japan Prime Minister is that any concessions on these territorial disputes would reinforce perceptions of Japan’s declining influence in the region.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, host of the APEC summit this year, said his country wants to resolve a territorial dispute with Japan over islands claimed by both nations. He and Noda agreed to have officials meet later this year to discuss rights to the islands.

Sovereignty Conflict

Tensions with Russia rose after then-President Dmitry Medvedev in November 2010 became the first Russian leader to visit the islands, which are called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. The Soviet Union seized the chain at the end of M9RJ6B6S972B and conflict over sovereignty has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty.

APEC’s 21 economies have a market of almost 3 billion consumers, making up 44 percent of world trade and 56 percent of world economic output totaling $39 trillion in 2011, according to a fact sheet provided by the U.S. government. Leaders said yesterday in the summit communique that they were committed to take steps against protectionist trade policies.

“The territorial disputes will distract from APEC’s resolve to quickly usher in a free trade agreement for all of Asia,” Maguire said. “Such an outcome could leave the impression that Asiacannot work together when further strong multilateral gains on a range of issues need to still be made.”


China’s President Calls for Restraint in South China Sea Dispute

Chinese President Hu Jintao told Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang that both countries should stay calm and act with restraint over territorial disputes in South China Sea.

“There have been some difficulties with China-Vietnam relations because of the dispute of the South Sea,” Hu told Truong at a meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, according to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry. “This is what we don’t want to see.”

China has become increasingly assertive in claiming sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea, a region rich in oil and gas. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have territorial claims over parts of the area.

China and Vietnam “should avoid any unilateral actions that would expand, complicate and internationalize the dispute,” Hu was cited as saying in Vladivostok, where he and Truong are attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. He said they should “adhere to bilateral negotiations and friendly consultations.”

China’s foreign ministry said Truong told Hu that Vietnam is willing to work with China to solve the dispute as early as possible through peaceful and friendly negotiations.