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Commentary: Harassing East Asia summit with islands disputes was unwise

By Wu Liming (Xinhua)

15:26, November 21, 2012

BEIJING, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- The East Asia Summit, which ended Tuesday in Phnom Penh, was expected to focus on ways to boost regional economic cooperation, but was unfortunately distracted by the disputes over the South China Sea as several countries attempted to raise them in an untimely manner.

Raising the disputes on such an occasion is against the spirit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and risks escalating tension and harming the cooperative atmosphere among East Asian countries.

The South China Sea has remained peaceful since the row over the Huangyan Island between China and the Philippines calmed down in April.

China and relevant countries have held two rounds of talks in a bid to seal the Code of Conduct in South China Sea.

Against such a backdrop, it is unwise to raise the South China Sea issue at the East Asia summit.

The Philippines and Vietnam, however, distracted the summit by doggedly highlighting the disputes. When Cambodia, this year's ASEAN chair, said at a meeting on Monday that the 10 ASEAN nations had agreed not to "internationalize" the rifts, Philippine President Benigno Aquino defied basic diplomatic rules to blatantly rebuke Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

As a matter of fact, "not to internationalize the South China Sea issue" is one of the important principles written in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which was reached 10 years ago by China and ASEAN countries including the Philippines.

The Philippines' and Vietnam's disregard of diplomatic protocols was apparently driven by their coveting of the rich oil, gas and maritime resources in the South China Sea.

China has a persistent and clear stance on the sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters.

Prior to the 1970s, countries around the South China Sea had a tacit recognition of China's sovereignty over the isles, but when oil was found in the seabed in 1976, everything changed.

In 1978, the Philippines claimed sovereignty over the Nansha Islands. And this year, the Philippines went so far as to decide to change the name of "South China Sea," a name that has been recognized across the world for hundreds of years.

Before 1974, Vietnam also recognized China's sovereignty over the isles, which can be proved by its governmental statements, diplomatic representations, official maps and textbooks.

However, out of the same reason as that of the Philippines, Vietnam passed a maritime law earlier this year to claim sovereignty over a number of isles in South China Sea.

Both Vietnam and the Philippines have been playing a crying for help card to seek bolster from countries outside the region, notably, the United States amid its Pivot to Asia strategy.

Those two countries intended to press China with the hands of U.S. President Barrack Obama, who also attended the summit.

This point of view is shared by quite a few Western media which believed "backing" from the United States encouraged the pair to speak loud at the summit.

Although President Obama lowered his tone by urging "restraint" at the summit, senior U.S. diplomats repeated the call for "freedom of navigation" after the summit.

In fact, "freedom of navigation" is a fabricated excuse.

China, the world's second biggest economy and top exporter, attaches importance to peace, stability, free navigation and security in the South China Sea. Thanks to its efforts and those of relevant countries, free navigation and security in the sea are fully guaranteed.

Repeating the issue of navigation freedom in South China Sea was intended to disguise the real motive of certain countries.

Disputes over the South China Sea can only be resolved through direct bilateral talks among relevant parties.

China is ready to work with related countries to maintain the hard-won cooperative atmosphere and make unremitting efforts to promote lasting peace and prosperity in East Asia.

This is the only right track forward, any deviation from which is unwise and short-sighted.


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