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ASEAN concerned about South China Sea tensions
February 28, 2016, 9:01 pm

In November 2014, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels came close to colliding in the South China Sea as tensions rose over disputed maritime territory [Xinhua]

In November 2014, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels came close to colliding in the South China Sea as tensions rose over disputed maritime territory [Xinhua]

A senior Chinese commander said late Sunday that his country is ready to defend its “sovereignty” and neutralize any threat in the South China Sea.

Local Chinese media reported that General Wang Jiaocheng of the People’s Liberation Army said he is committed to ensuring maritime security and protecting Beijing’s “rights and interests” in the South China Sea.

His comments came as the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) expressed consternation about the increasing ‘war of words’ between Beijing and Washington over China’s presence in the South China Sea.

Following their annual retreat in Laos, the ASEAN delegates issued a communique in which they said they “remained seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments,” in the South China Sea.

Late last week, US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry said that China was “militarizing” the South China Sea region.

The South China Sea, which official Chinese data indicates is 3.55 million square km, is one of the world’s most strategically important waterways and is exceedingly rich with minerals.

China, which claims about 2 million square km of the maritime territory, has always maintained that “the situation in the South China Sea is stable. China and the countries of the [ASEAN] have kept a good-neighborly relationship”.

But Vietnam and the Philippines dispute China’s claim over the maritime region.

China claims it has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha (or Spratly) Islands and its adjacent waters according to the “nine-dash line” that it has delineated at the South China Sea, waters which carry around half of the world’s trade and possibly contains rich reserves of oil and gas.

On Chinese maps, the “nine-dash” territorial demarcation envelops virtually the entire South China Sea.

The Islands are off the coasts of Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Philippines, a major non-NATO ally of the US in the Pacific and an ASEAN member, had previously agreed to allow the United States access to its military bases under a new security deal.

The deal will allow the United States to increase deployment of American troops, ships and aircrafts in the region.

This aids US plans to “rebalance” its forces in Asia-Pacific region for the much-hyped Asia Pivot.

In a bid to calm tensions, Singapore – which is the country coordinator on ASEAN-China relations – said that it would increase efforts on the formulation of the Code of Conduct in the disputed region.

The Code of Conduct governing maritime actions in the South China Sea was fully agreed by ASEAN and China in April 2013 and is meant to prevent any conflicts in the region. But negotiations over the Code have so far proven difficult.

ASEAN and China already have agreed to but have not yet implemented a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

The DOC states:

The Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In the meantime, Minghao Zhao a member of the China National Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), says that the South China Sea is not a good playfield for practicing power politics.

“The US-China wrestling along with security balancing moves taken by the middle and small powers in the region cast their shadow over this major shipping route for international trade,” he writes.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

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