Na­tions call on China to halt sea work

U.S., Aus­tralia, Ja­pan say South China Sea claimants boost­ing ten­sion in re­gion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - JIM GOMEZ AND TERESA CERO­JANO In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Josh Le­d­er­man of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

MANILA, Philip­pines — The U.S., Aus­tralian and Ja­panese for­eign min­is­ters called on Mon­day for a halt to land recla­ma­tion and mil­i­tary ac­tions in the South China Sea and com­pli­ance with an ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing that in­val­i­dated China’s vast claims to the dis­puted wa­ters.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, Aus­tralian For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop and Ja­pan’s new top diplo­mat, Taro Kono, also called on their South­east Asian coun­ter­parts to rapidly ne­go­ti­ate a legally bind­ing maritime code with China aimed at pre­vent­ing an es­ca­la­tion of con­flicts in one of the world’s busiest water­ways.

In a joint state­ment, the three ex­pressed se­ri­ous con­cerns over the long-seething sea dis­putes and “voiced their strong op­po­si­tion to co­er­cive uni­lat­eral ac­tions that could al­ter the sta­tus quo and in­crease ten­sions.”

They urged ri­val claimant states in the South China Sea “to re­frain from land recla­ma­tion, con­struc­tion of out­posts, mil­i­ta­riza­tion of dis­puted fea­tures, and un­der­tak­ing uni­lat­eral ac­tions that cause per­ma­nent phys­i­cal change to the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment in ar­eas pend­ing de­lim­i­ta­tion.”

The con­tend­ing states should clar­ify their claims peace­fully in ac­cor­dance with a 1982 maritime treaty and in­ter­na­tional law, ac­cord­ing to the three, who met on the side­lines of an­nual meet­ings of Asia-Pa­cific for­eign min­is­ters in Manila, in­clud­ing those from China and Rus­sia.

Their re­marks, which are aimed at tam­ing ag­gres­sion in the dis­puted wa­ters, are con­sid­er­ably stronger than a joint state­ment of con­cern is­sued by their coun­ter­parts in the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions, a 10-na­tion bloc whose economies de­pend heav­ily on China.

Their stance also con­trasts with that of China, which op­poses what it con­sid­ers med­dling in Asian dis­putes by the United States and other Western gov­ern­ments. China wants the dis­putes to be re­solved through one-on-one ne­go­ti­a­tions.

China’s ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the strate­gic and po­ten­tially oil- and gas-rich wa­ter­way with Tai­wan and as­so­ci­a­tion mem­ber states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philip­pines and Viet­nam in­ten­si­fied af­ter China built is­lands in the dis­puted wa­ters in re­cent years and re­port­edly started to in­stall a mis­sile de­fense sys­tem on them, alarm­ing ri­val claimant states as well as the U.S. and other Western gov­ern­ments.

China’s for­eign min­is­ter said over the week­end that talks for a long-sought code of con­duct in the South China Sea, first broached in 2002, may fi­nally start this year if “out­side par­ties” don’t cause a ma­jor dis­rup­tion.

Ad­ding to the drum­beat of crit­i­cism, the com­man­der of U.S. forces in the Pa­cific, Adm. Harry Har­ris, said Mon­day that the code of con­duct ne­go­ti­a­tions with an “ag­gres­sive” China will be a key chal­lenge for the re­gion.

China’s re­jec­tion of an in­ter­na­tional rul­ing last year that sup­ported the ter­ri­to­rial claims of the Philip­pines “demon­strates to any ob­server what kind of coun­try China is,” Har­ris said in Jakarta, the In­done­sian cap­i­tal, at a meet­ing of the U.S.-In­done­sia Friend­ship So­ci­ety.

“Con­tin­u­ing claims that are in con­flict with other coun­tries will demon­strate to all of us what kind of coun­try China will be,” he said.

But Har­ris of­fered noth­ing more than moral sup­port to South­east Asia. The re­gion it­self is not a treaty part­ner of the U.S. and it’s up to the 10 South­east Asian coun­tries to re­spond firmly to China’s pos­ture in the South China Sea, he said.

While China has had ro­bust eco­nomic ties with South­east Asia, a di­verse re­gion of more than 600 mil­lion peo­ple with a com­bined GDP of $2.4 tril­lion, both have tan­gled for years over the ter­ri­to­rial con­flicts. Ten­sions flared alarm­ingly in re­cent years over China’s is­land-build­ing works in one of the most-con­tested re­gions, where U.S. naval and aerial “free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion” pa­trols have chal­lenged China’s claims.

The min­is­ters from the three Asia- Pa­cific pow­ers “re­it­er­ated that the three coun­tries will con­tinue to fly, sail, and op­er­ate wher­ever in­ter­na­tional law al­lows.”

Dis­agree­ment partly over whether to in­clude crit­i­cism, even in­di­rectly, of China’s in­creas­ingly as­sertive moves in the con­tested ter­ri­to­ries de­layed the is­suance of a joint com­mu­nique of As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions for­eign min­is­ters af­ter they held their an­nual meet­ings Sat­ur­day in Manila.

When the com­mu­nique was is­sued later, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s min­is­ters de­fied China’s stance with in­di­rect crit­i­cism of China’s land recla­ma­tion and mil­i­tary for­ti­fi­ca­tions in the dis­puted wa­ters.

They also men­tioned in their state­ment a vague ref­er­ence to an in­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing last year that in­val­i­dated China’s his­tor­i­cal claims to vir­tu­ally all of the strate­gic wa­ter­way. As in past crit­i­cisms, they did not cite China by name.

AP/MARK CRISTINO

As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions For­eign Min­is­ters and their di­a­logue part­ners at­tend the 24th ASEAN Re­gional Fo­rum on Mon­day in Manila, Philip­pines.

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