ASEAN-China meet hoping to reduce sea conflict

Posted on January 14, 2012 08:45:28 PM | BREAKING NEWS

BEIJING -- Senior officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have begun their three-day meeting here on Friday to discuss a rules-based conduct of activities in the South China Sea aimed at resolving tension over conflicting claims in the resource-rich region.

The meeting came days after the Philippines again accused China of intruding into its territorial waters amid a continuing disagreement in what Manila prefers to call the West Philippines Sea. Beijing has denied the charge.

The Philippines, three other ASEAN members -- Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam -- Taiwan and China have overlapping claims over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, an area estimated to have oil reserve of seven billion barrels as well as 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, based on a report published by the Center for New American Security. (

Tensions have remained in the disputed area since last year as the claimants have aggressively asserted their rights.

“Senior officials will review the progress of its implementation, and focus on the promotion of pragmatic cooperation under the framework of the DOC,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin was quoted as saying in a statement following a press briefing on Thursday.

State media China Daily ran a story on Friday which quoted Mr. Liu as saying that Beijing is hoping to fully implement the guidelines of the decade- old document. The three-day meeting is expected to result in a positive step to formally follow the guidelines that ASEAN and China have inked in July.

"China will seize this opportunity of making joint efforts with ASEAN countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and bring benefits to the people in the region," Mr. Liu said.

For his part, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said the Philippines wants clarification on the intrusion of Chinese vessels into its territorial waters.

“We look upon our valuable and long-standing friendship with China to be one that is based on mutual respect and equality,” he said.
“To peacefully and finally settle the disputes in the West Philippine Sea, it behooves conflicting claims to be resolved based on the rules-based regime of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Philippines is therefore prepared to validate our claims under UNCLOS, and we cordially invite China to join us in endeavoring to validate its own claims,” Manila’s top diplomat said in a statement.

Analysts and experts here and in the US have mixed reactions over the issue, although most agreed that the implementation of the DOC is a major step to solve the tensions.

“There are built-in domestic opinions and interests. A solution is therefore bound to be protracted,” said Daojiong Zha professor of the School of International Studies of Peking University said.

M. Taylor Fravel, an associate professor of political science and member of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that “… despite persistent competition, armed conflict in the South China Sea is far from inevitable… Regional states are competing over maritime rights more than other security issues, especially claims to territorial sovereignty over islands and reefs….”

He said the parties involved should have the political will to resolve the disputes.

“The July 2011 agreement between [ASEAN] and China over guidelines for implementing the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea has created diplomatic breathing space that can be exploited to reduce tensions. Cooperative initiatives could reduce future competition over maritime rights but will require political will and diplomatic creativity to move forward,” Mr. Fravel added. -- Darwin T. Wee