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China: Let us not quarrel over Spratlys

/ 04:27 AM April 16, 2011

BOAO, China—Chinese President Hu Jintao called Friday for Asian nations to better cooperate in security matters to avoid disagreements in a region increasingly beset by rival territorial claims—often involving China.

Hu offered only vague ideas about a “new security concept,” but his remarks appeared aimed at reassuring neighbors unsettled by Beijing’s soaring economic growth and by its beefed-up military, which has been more assertive in staking China’s territorial claims.

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“We need to seek common ground while shelving differences and enhance common security,” Hu told participants at a regional gathering in southern China. “We should reject the Cold War mentality and zero-sum approach, and advocate a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination.”

China and five neighbors—Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines—have staked rival claims over the Spratly Islands, a cluster of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls scattered over an area of nearly 410,000 square kilometers in the South China Sea.

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The Spratlys are believed to be rich in gas and oil deposits. Some of the claimants, like the Philippines, have installed military forces in the area.

PH to boost patrol

Earlier this month, the Philippines filed a formal protest with the United Nations over China’s “nine-dash line” territorial claim—based on a map with nine dashes—over the entire South China Sea.

Amid a flare-up in tensions over rival claims, the Philippine military on Friday said it planned to use a new US-made vessel to boost patrols in the disputed waters, according to Agence France-Presse.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta said the Philippine Navy was looking to use the modern Hamilton-class patrol craft, recently bought from the United States, around the Philippine-claimed area. The US Navy describes the Hamilton as a high-endurance cutter with close-in weapons systems.

“That’s one of the possible areas. We really have to secure some of our possessions, and the Spratlys are one of our possessions,” Mabanta told Agence France-Presse when asked where the vessel would be deployed.

Mabanta said a Philippine Navy crew was currently in the United States training to operate the patrol craft, and that it was expected to arrive in June.

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Major ally

The dispute flared last month when Manila complained that Chinese patrol boats had harassed a Philippine oil exploration vessel in the area.

Much of the disputed areas and their adjacent waters are closer to Philippine land than Chinese.

The United States considers the Philippines a major military ally and the two countries are bound by a 1951 mutual defense pact. China has repeatedly told the United States it has no right to be involved in the Spratlys dispute.

Boao Forum

Hu’s remarks appeared significant in part because of the venue: the Boao Forum for Asia, which China bills as an Asian version of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos.

On the stage with Hu were Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, South African President Jacob Zuma, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik and former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

Boao itself lies off the South China Sea—a region of key shipping lanes that is at the center of overlapping sovereignty claims between China and five other governments.

Alliances strengthened

China has sought to ease concerns over its claim to the entire sea and its island groups, saying it would not impede transit and trade through the region.

But, in recent years, it has called the South China Sea a vital national interest and seized fishing boats from other claimants, prompting a regional backlash.

At the same time, Japan and South Korea have also strengthened their military alliances with the United States, partly as a result of China’s military expansion and Beijing’s reluctance to condemn provocative acts by communist ally North Korea.

“Cold War mentality” is China’s usual term for perceptions of China as a threat, especially in the United States and the West.

While Beijing formally disavows all military alliances, it has sought to boost trust through exchanges of visits and joint exercises with other armed forces in the region and further abroad.—Reports from AP and AFP

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TAGS: Asia Australia – East Asia, Diplomacy, International (foreign) Relations, Spratlys
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