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Sparks Fly As Nations Confront South China Sea Issue

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

20 July 2012

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc has for the first time failed to agree on a closing Communique at its 45th meeting after the divisive issue of the SouthChina Sea maritime territory dispute was raised by government representatives from the Philippines.

Following the meeting, a representative from the Philippines Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed national responsibility for discord at the event, instead blaming hosts Cambodia, which blocked the inclusion of a statement summarizing recent spats involving China from being featured in ASEAN's end-of-meeting communique. In recent times, China's relationship with ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam has deteriorated due to a number of confrontations in disputed waters, and the increased deployment of military craft to the area, particularly by China, to 'protect national interests'.

Urging ASEAN's ten-party membership to come to a consensus on the matter, Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, called for leaders to agree upon "a meaningful and practical code of conduct... to avoid conflict and bolster stability in the region", in recognition that a resolution in relation to each nations' overlapping territorial claims was unlikely to be negotiated, particularly as China has been resolute in defence of its claims for the entire maritime region.

Also drawing fire recently for bringing up the issue in regional fora is United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was criticized by China for her comments made to reporters on the sidelines of the event, in which she called on the region to agree a solution to the matter free from the use of economic intimidation and military coercion.

Denouncing the United States' involvement in the matter, China said US 'meddling' has only served to exacerbate the dispute and complicate regional talks towards a resolution.

Clinton insisted that the United States is not taking sides in the dispute, but has urged that it be resolved on the basis of international law.

"No nation can fail to be concerned by the increase in tensions, the uptick in confrontational rhetoric and disagreements over resource exploitation," Clinton said. "We have seen worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and government vessels in connection with disputes among fishermen. We believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and certainly without the use of force.”

TAGS: marine

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