WORLD NEWS TOMORROW | WNT NEWS -UNITED STATES – US SECRETARY of State Hillary Clinton warned yesterday that a “zero-sum” approach to competing claims in the South China Sea would yield only negative results, as China fuels tensions with its more aggressive approach to its rights over resource-rich zones.
Ms Clinton told foreign ministers from 26 Asia-Pacific states, Canada and the European Union who were meeting to discuss a code of conduct for the oil-rich waters, that a zero-sum approach in the Asia-Pacific would mean “negative-sum” results.
Ms Clinton warned of rising tensions and urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China to finalise an agreement that would help to manage competing claims.
“No nation can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric, and disagreements over resource exploitation,” she said.
She called on China to recognize the boundaries already delimited by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. When asked at a press conference about the stakes involved if Asean and China fail to reach agreement, Ms Clinton said: “Let’s wait and see what happens.”
On Wednesday, she warned that there would be more confrontations. Ms Clinton also said that bilateral agreements on region-wide issues such as the freedom of movement and the lawful exploitation of maritime resources courted confusion.
China has dragged its heels on a code of conduct for regional waters. Beijing claims sovereign exploration rights to oil-and gas-rich zones including the Paracel and Spratly islands, as well as the Scarborough Shoal.
Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying said on Wednesday that China would start talks on a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea “when conditions are ripe”, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
China warned the Asean states ahead of yesterday’s meeting to avoid mentioning the territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines over the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia and Brunei are among states who reject China’s map of the waters as a basis for joint development, and have sought a regional solution to increase their bargaining power with Asia’s biggest military spender.
Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, known as PetroVietnam, last month called for the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation to cancel an invitation for foreign companies to explore nine blocks that overlap with areas awarded to Exxon Mobil Corporation, Moscow-based Gazprom and India’s Oil & Natural Gas. The Philippines has urged Asean to take a position on its two-month standoff earlier this year with China over the reef known as Scarborough Shoal in the Philippines and Huangyan Island in China.
Chinese vessels cut the cables of a PetroVietnam survey ship last year and chased a boat in waters delimited by the Philippines.
The region is estimated to have as much as 30-billion tons of oil and 16-trillion cubic meters of gas, which would account for about one-third of China’s oil and gas resources, according to Xinhua.
China has also clashed with Japan over a disputed island chain known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, where both countries have sent patrol boats in recent weeks. Mr Yang told Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba in Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, on Wednesday that he hoped Japan would appropriately handle problems in the bilateral relationship, reports said.
In a visit to Tokyo this week, Ms Clinton sought clarity on a report that Japan’s government planned to buy the islands, prompting an angry response from China.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he would continue to brief her on Japan’s plans.
The US interest in the South China Sea is based on the importance of freedom of navigation in the 3,5-million-square-kilometre body of water that links the Pacific and Indian oceans, Ms Clinton said. China has denied its actions threaten freedom of navigation.
The US defense department said in a 2009 report that China’s growing military strength increases its ” options for military coercion to press diplomatic advantage, advance interests, or resolve disputes in its favour”.
Chinese military spending last year was more than double that of the Asean countries combined, according to the National Bureau of Asia Research, a Washington policy group. In 1990, the two budgets were almost equal.
Diplomatic squabbles between the US and China escalated this week after Ms Clinton’s remarks in Mongolia, in which she criticized governments that lock up dissidents and hinder freedom of speech. The Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper yesterday blasted US “arrogance” in commenting on human rights and democracy in Asia.
“If the US always shows up as a preacher, and always picks on democracy in Asia by standing high and looking down, or if it even wants to raise its flag to build a ‘team’ that can balance China’s development, it will ultimately make itself marginalized,” the editorial said.