US, China won’t budge on sea row

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSE KATIG­BAK STAR Wash­ing­ton bu­reau

WASH­ING­TON – The US and China stood firm on their po­si­tions in the South China Sea (SCS) row, but stressed the need to tamp down ten­sion and said co­op­er­a­tion was the only op­tion to peace.

Se­nior diplo­matic and mil­i­tary lead­ers from both coun­tries met here on Fri­day to set the stage for a sum­mit in Ar­gentina be­tween US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping later this month.

As has been the usual gam­bit in their dis­cus­sions, China de­manded the US cease send­ing ships and planes close to dis­puted is­lands it claims in the SCS.

The US in turn as­serted it would con­tinue to “fly, sail and op­er­ate wher­ever in­ter­na­tional law al­lows.”

China claims vir­tu­ally all of the SCS but sev­eral coun­tries – in­clud­ing key US al­lies like the Philip­pines, Tai­wan and Viet­nam – have com­pet­ing claims to parts of the area.

The US-China diplo­matic and se­cu­rity di­a­logue was at­tended by Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis and Yang Jiechi, head of the for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party’s Polit­buro and De­fense Min­is­ter Wei Fenghe.

“Co­op­er­a­tion is the only op­tion for us,” Wei said at a news con­fer­ence af­ter the meet­ing.

Wei added that “con­fronta­tion and con­flict be­tween the two mil­i­taries will spell dis­as­ter for us all.”

“The (US) is not pur­su­ing a pol­icy of Cold War con­tain­ment with China,” Pom­peo said. “Rather we want to en­sure that China acts re­spon­si­bly and fairly in sup­port of se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity of each of our two coun­tries.”

Mat­tis added that “com­pe­ti­tion does not mean hos­til­ity nor must it lead to con­flict.”

Yang main­tained, “To use the free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and over­flight as an ex­cuse to pur­sue mil­i­tary ac­tions is un­jus­ti­fi­able.”

The talks were due to be held in Bei­jing last month but were post­poned af­ter Wash­ing­ton an­nounced new arms sales to Tai­wan, and af­ter a Chi­nese de­stroyer came close to the USS

De­catur in late Septem­ber in what the US Navy called an “un­safe and un­pro­fes­sional ma­neu­ver.”

Although the reschedul­ing of the di­a­logue sig­naled an ef­fort by the two sides to con­tain the slide in the re­la­tion­ship, it did not ad­dress the core dis­pute on trade.

Trump has slapped tar­iffs on $250 bil­lion in Chi­nese prod­ucts, in a push to nar­row the US trade deficit and push back against what the US views as preda­tory Chi­nese tac­tics on the high tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try.

Bei­jing has re­tal­i­ated with tar­iffs on $110 mil­lion worth of US goods.

Yun Sun, a China ex­pert at the Stim­son Cen­ter think tank, said Bei­jing is un­cer­tain about what ex­actly Trump wants out of a trade deal, but hopes that with US midterm elec­tions out of the way, the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent may be more in­clined to reach a com­pro­mise.

“Their top pri­or­ity is to sta­bi­lize re­la­tions,” Yun said.

On hu­man rights, Pom­peo voiced con­cern over China’s treat­ment of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, in­clud­ing the mass de­ten­tion of mi­nor­ity Uighur Mus­lims. But over­all, the tone of the US of­fi­cials’ pub­lic com­ments was milder than that of the Chi­nese.

Yang in­sisted that Chi­nese peo­ple have free­dom of re­li­gion and that “for­eign coun­tries have no right to in­ter­fere.”

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