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South China Sea issue expected to be discussed during three-country visit

By Li Xiaokun and Zhou Wa (China Daily)

08:06, August 10, 2012

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi embarked on a three-stop visit to Southeast Asia on Thursday, in which the South China Sea issue is expected to top discussions.

Chinese experts believe Yang will seek understanding from the island nations on the territorial issue, including Indonesia, which plays a leading mediating role in discussions inside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The foreign minister will also focus on building better bilateral relations during the trip, as Beijing does not want to see its broad ties with the region dominated by the issue.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Wednesday that Yang will pay official visits to Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia from Thursday to Aug 13, at the invitation of his counterparts from the respective countries.

The visit comes as Beijing’s tensions with Hanoi and Manila in the South China Sea increased in recent months.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have claims over some islands and waters in the South China Sea.

During his visit, Yang will also co-chair, with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, the second meeting of the joint committee for bilateral cooperation between the two governments.

“In my view the Indonesian visit is targeted more at bilateral ties,” said Yang Baoyun, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at Peking University.

Still, he said Beijing recognizes Indonesia’s mediation efforts on the South China Sea issue.

Indonesia has played an active mediating role in discussions on the South China Sea dispute after foreign ministers of the 10-member ASEAN last month failed to issue a joint communique at their meeting in Phnom Penh because they could not agree on a paragraph about territorial disputes.

Natalegawa then embarked on a 36-hour “shuttle diplomacy” tour to the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore that resulted in ASEAN member states agreeing on a joint statement outlining ASEAN’s six key principles on the issue.

On Wednesday Natalegawa warned of a “risk of further tensions” in the South China Sea if a “collective and common approach” is not soon agreed on. He was referring to a code of conduct on the South China Sea issue designed to reduce tensions.

He said he hoped to compare notes on the South China Sea with Yang during his visit.

Peking University’s Yang Baoyun said the key point on which to achieve consensus in any code of conduct, is that the proposal cannot challenge China’s sovereignty.
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