US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned of more confrontations in the South China Sea without a region-wide solution as China rebuffed calls to expedite talks on rules for operating in disputed waters.
“Issues such as freedom of navigation and lawful exploitation of maritime resources often involve a wide region,” Clinton said in remarks yesterday to Asia-Pacific area foreign ministers during a meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. “Approaching them strictly bilaterally could be a recipe for confusion and even confrontation.”
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying (傅瑩) on Wednesday said China would start talks on a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea “when conditions are ripe,” according to Xinhua news agency.
Diplomatic squabbling between the US and China escalated after Clinton’s remarks in Mongolia this week in which she criticized governments that lock up dissidents and hinder freedom of speech.
The People’s Daily yesterday blasted US “arrogance” in commenting on human rights and democracy in Asia.
The US and the 10-member ASEAN, after a meeting yesterday, called for the “Early conclusion” of a code of conduct that complies with the UN’s Law of the Sea, according to a statement.
The summary of a separate meeting between ASEAN states and Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) did not mention the code of conduct.
“It is China’s consistent position that disputes over the sovereignty of some islands and delimitation of some waters in the South China Sea should be peacefully settled by the parties directly concerned through negotiations,” Chinese government spokesman Zhang Jianmin told Xinhua yesterday. “Pending the settlement of the disputes, the parties concerned may put aside their differences and engage in joint development.”
The Philippines and Vietnam reject China’s map of the waters as a basis for joint development and have sought a regional solution to increase their bargaining power with Asia’s biggest military spender. Clinton has urged the countries to define their territory based on the UN Law of the Sea, a move China has resisted because it may lead to a loss of some waters it now claims.
Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, known as PetroVietnam, last month called for China National Offshore Oil Corp (中國海洋石油總公司), the government-owned parent of CNOOC Ltd (中國海洋石油有限公司), to cancel an invitation for foreign companies to explore nine blocks that overlap with areas awarded to Exxon Mobil Corp, Moscow-based OAO Gazprom and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Co.
The Philippines has urged ASEAN to take a position on its two-month standoff earlier this year with China over a disputed reef known as the Scarborough Shoal which is claimed by Taipei and known in Taiwan and China as Huangyan Island (黃岩島).
Chinese vessels last year cut the cables of a PetroVietnam survey ship and chased away a boat in waters delimited by the Philippines. The region is estimated to have as much as 30 billion tonnes of oil and 16 trillion cubic meters of gas, which would account for about one-third of China’s oil and gas resources, according to Xinhua. China had 2 billion tonnes of proven oil reserves and 99 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in 2010, according to BP PLC estimates.