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China vows freedom, safety in S. China Sea

Publication Date : 06-09-2012


China promises to guarantee freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea but remains vague on solving maritime disputes


China has promised to guarantee freedom and safety of navigation in the increasingly contentious South China Sea, but remains vague on its support for a proposed multilateral mechanism to resolve possible maritime conflicts.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made the safety pledge yesterday in response to calls from visiting United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for international laws and freedom of navigation to be respected in the Southeast Asian maritime hub.

"Freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea is assured. For China and our neighbouring countries, the South China Sea is... a lifeline for exchanges, trade and commerce," he said. "There is no issue currently in this area, nor will there ever be issues in the area in the future."

Speaking at a joint press conference with Yang, Clinton also said it is timely now for China and other countries to work towards a code of conduct to resolve disputes in the South China Sea, a vital cog in global shipping trade.

"We believe China and Asean can ramp up diplomacy efforts, and the US stands ready to support in any way," she said.

The top US diplomat added that the code would hopefully be ready by the time the East Asia Summit (EAS) is held in Cambodia in November.

But Yang was non-committal on whether Beijing would support a code of conduct to manage disputes with neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

He repeated China's claims of sovereignty over islands and resource-rich waters in the South China Sea, saying that "there is plentiful historical and jurisprudential evidence for that".

Said Yang: "We believe the dispute should be resolved by the claimants in a friendly manner based on respect for international laws and historical facts."

Citing how his recent tour of the region showed him the importance of the code of conduct to South-east Asian nations, Yang said China felt it should work towards an eventual adoption of a code of conduct "on the basis of consensus", and that he hoped for "success" at the EAS.

Analyst Li Mingjiang of Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said it is unlikely the code of conduct would be concluded by November or any time soon. "There are too many challenges, like deciding on the monitoring mechanisms and penalty for non-compliance."

Clinton arrived in Beijing on Tuesday from Jakarta, where she urged Asean countries to unite in dealing with China over the South China Sea.

The region has been spooked by prospects of conflict since a tense stand-off in April between naval ships from China and the Philippines over the disputed Scarborough Shoal, known to the Chinese as Huangyan islands.

The rift deepened in June after Vietnam passed laws declaring sovereignty over the disputed Paracels and Spratlys. In response, China set up the new Sansha city and a military garrison on an island within the Paracels.

A meeting of Asean foreign ministers in July failed for the first time to produce a joint communique due to differences over the maritime disputes, with chair Cambodia accused of acting as Beijing's proxy.

Many Chinese people and officials have accused the US of egging on other claimants to take on Beijing so as to contain China.

Premier Wen Jiabao, in his meeting with Clinton yesterday, urged the US to respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and to consider its core interests and feelings of its people.

He said: "China-US relations have progressed in general, but I've been worried lately. We should have mutual political respect and strategic trust."

But at the press briefing, Clinton said the US does not take sides in the disputes, nor is it trying to contain China's rise.

"The US welcomes a strong, stable and prosperous China that plays its role in world affairs and helps to maintain and shape global order. We believe China can play a useful role in promoting growth, peace and prosperity regionally and globally," she said.


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