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Sea disputes hinder ASEAN conference

By Liu Linlin (Global Times)

08:44, July 13, 2012

Fishing vessels leave for the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea from a port of Sanya, south China's Hainan Province, July 12, 2012. A joint ocean-going fishing operation involving local fishery enterprises, co-ops and individual fishermen was launched Thursday in Sanya. Thirty fishing vessels will be exploiting the fish resources in the waters of the Nansha Islands in the 20-day fishing operation. Photo: Xinhua

Leaders of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries are trying to draw up a final joint statement during an ongoing forum but progress has floundered on the South China Sea, which drew disputes among China and certain member nations.

The ASEAN nations have also been seeking, with US encouragement, to begin a process to set up a code of conduct for the South China Sea and aimed to include a reference to it in their final statement, but differences on wording resulted in failure to form a final draft.

"Most of the ASEANs acknowledge that the institution is under enormous pressure and stress right now to maintain unity as it confronts very serious challenges, primarily associated with the South China Sea," a US official was quoted by AFP as saying.

Shi Yinhong, director of the Center of American Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that South China Sea disputes should be discussed between involved nations separately, and not at the ASEAN summit.

"Not all ASEAN members have territorial disputes with China and discussing the issue during the meetings will create rifts between member nations and make current disputes more difficult to solve," Shi said.

Zhuang Guotu, dean of the School for Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, told the Global Times that China has every right to refuse a new code of conduct if it went the way the Philippines wants.

"The Philippine version is clearly a violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea reached in 2002, which doesn't allow an outsider of the region to be monitor," Zhuang said.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration pressed Beijing on Thursday to accept a code of conduct for resolving territorial disputes in the resource-rich sea.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the ASEAN annual conference.

Yang stressed that China stands ready to work together with the US to continue to implement the agreement reached between the two heads of state and strengthen dialogue and cooperation in the bilateral, Asia-Pacific and global context.

Clinton said the US has no territorial claims there and does not take sides in disputes about territorial or maritime boundaries.

"But we do have an interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea," she said.

Shi said China faces difficulties diplomatically solving the South China Sea disputes because China's insistence on putting aside disputes and peacefully handling conflicts is against the US' interest, adding that China has to work on not making the entire Southeast Asian region work against it.

The Philippines will bid out oil exploration contracts in the South China Sea, Philippine Energy Undersecretary James Layug said Wednesday.

"All reserves in that area belong to the Philippines. We will only offer areas within our exclusive economic zone," he said at the sidelines of an energy forum in Manila.

"The Philippines is trying to attract as much attention as possible, but as long as China has acted in accordance with the agreement signed in 2002 and the commitment to implement the agreement in 2011, China has no reason to worry," Zhuang said.

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