ASEAN, China hold three-day meet to reduce tensions in South China Sea

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BEIJING (MinadNews/13 January) — Senior officials of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China are meeting here from Friday to Sunday to discuss the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in a bid to reduce tensions in West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).

The meeting came just days after the Philippines again accused China of intruding into its territory, a charge that Beijing denied.

The Philippines, along with three other ASEAN members and China, has overlapping claims at the South China Sea, which has been proven to have oil reserves of seven billion barrels as well as an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the recent report published by the Center for New American Security. (http://www.cnas.org/files/documents/publications/CNAS_CooperationFromStrength_Cronin_1.pdf)

Tensions have been high since last year as the involved countries aggressively asserted their respective territorial rights. US has also announced to be active in Asia Pacific region and said they are beefing up their naval presence to protect the flow of  traffic in the international waters which is right in the middle of the disputed sea.

“Senior officials will review the progress of its implementation, and focus on the promotion of pragmatic cooperation under the framework of the DOC,” 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, quoting Mr. Liu saying that they hope to fully implement the guidelines of the 10-year old document.

The three-day meeting is anticipated to create a fine tune solution to the disputed area — a positive step to formally follow the guidelines of the document that the ASEAN countries and China have signed last 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, Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said the Philippines wishes to be clarified on the recent intrusion of the Chinese vessels.

“We look upon our valuable and long-standing friendship with China to be one that is based on mutual respect and equality.  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,” he said in a statement

Analysts and experts here and in the US gave mixed reactions over the issue although most of them agreed that the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties is a big step to solve the tensions.

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

“A desirable development — I don’t know if it will happen — is for legal experts of the claimant countries to sit down and compare notes. Thus far, too many issues are bundled together with talk of claims. There are some established principles in international maritime law. But often, those principles require the legal experts to educate the general public and political plus the diplomatic circles,” he added.

M. Taylor Fravel, an associate professor of Political Science and member of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that “yet despite persistent competition, armed conflict in the South China Sea is far from inevitable for several reasons.”

“Regional states are competing over maritime rights more than other security issues, especially claims to territorial sovereignty over islands and reefs. The competition over maritime rights in the South China Sea has not become militarized, nor has it reached the levels of instability that the region witnessed between 1988 and 1995,” he said.

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

“The July 2011 agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (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,” he added. (Darwin Wally T. Wee/MindaNews)

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