US says won’t tolerate navigation curbs in tense South China Sea
The United States warned Thursday it would not tolerate efforts to control sea and air routes in the South China Sea, as Southeast Asian nations debated how hard to pressure Beijing on its island-building.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at a regional summit that open navigation of the strategically important area was an “intrinsic right.”
“Let me be clear: The United States will not accept restrictions on freedom of navigation and overflight, or other lawful uses of the sea,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, after attending a summit dominated by the flashpoint issue.
China has sparked alarm by expanding tiny reefs and constructing military posts, steps viewed by some of its neighbors as violating a regional pledge against provocative actions in the area.
The long simmering dispute has flared at the Malaysia meet, which is being hosted by the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and includes envoys from more than a dozen other nations such as China, Japan, South Korea and the U.S..
Beijing claims control over nearly the entire South China Sea, a key shipping route thought to hold rich oil and gas reserves.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — all ASEAN members — also have various claims, as does Taiwan, many of which overlap.
Each year the regional ASEAN bloc, which prides itself on its history of consensus diplomacy, releases a joint communique after the annual meeting of its foreign ministers, which took place Tuesday.
But the nations have been at loggerheads for the last three days over the wording of the paragraphs addressing the South China Sea.
Diplomatic sources told AFP that the Philippines and Vietnam in particular were pushing for stronger language on Chinese land reclamation, which could help shore up Beijing’s disputed territorial claims.
But there was pushback from traditional China allies among the association, they added.
“China’s friends are taking a hard stance,” said one diplomat familiar with the drafting.
The diplomat did not specify which countries were taking a hard line, but Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar traditionally ally with China within ASEAN.