Mon, Nov 13, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Trump offers to mediate South China Sea dispute

EXPERT CLAIM:While the US leader boasted of his arbitration skills, the Philippine foreign secretary said that mediation involves all the claimants and nonclaimants

AP, MANILA

US President Donald Trump, left, toasts Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center, and Duterte’s common-law wife Honeylet Avancena, right, during the gala dinner marking ASEAN’s 50th anniversary in Manila last night.

Photo: Reuters

US President Donald Trump yesterday offered to mediate in the South China Sea disputes, while his Chinese counterpart played down concerns over Beijing’s military buildup and the prospects of war in the contested waters.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) spoke separately about the territorial rifts ahead of an annual ASEAN summit in Manila that also includes the US, China and other global players. The disputes are expected to get the spotlight at the summit, along with the North Korean nuclear threat and terrorism.

The US is not a claimant to the potentially oil-rich and busy waters, but it has declared that it has a national interest in ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight and the peaceful resolution of the disputes.

Several nations back an active US military presence in the region to serve as a counterweight to China’s increasingly assertive actions.

“I’m a very good mediator and arbitrator,” Trump said at a news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang in Hanoi before flying to Manila for the ASEAN summit.

Trump’s offer faces major obstacles. For one, China has steadfastly opposed what it calls US meddling in the disputes and has balked at the US Navy’s incursions into what Beijing considers its territorial waters in the South China Sea.

The Philippines, the head of ASEAN’s rotational chairmanship, said member states of the 10-nation bloc have to consult each other, but thanked Trump for the offer.

“He is the master of the art of the deal, but, of course, the claimant countries have to answer as a group or individually ... mediation involves all the claimants and nonclaimants,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Xi, during a meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, on the sidelines of the APEC forum, assured him of China’s peaceful intentions in the strategic waterway, where Beijing, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and two other governments have overlapping claims.

When he raised concerns over China’s increasing military capability in the South China Sea, Duterte said Xi replied, “`No, it’s nothing.”

“He acknowledged that war cannot be promoted by anybody, [that] it would only mean destruction for all of us,” Duterte told reporters after flying back to Manila. “He knows that if he goes to war, everything will blow up.”

However, Xi would not back down on Beijing’s territorial claim, Duterte said, and justified his decision not to immediately demand Chinese compliance with last year’s ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, that invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.

“If you go to the negotiating table and you start with the statement that I am here to claim validity of our ownership, you’re wasting your time. They will not talk about it,” Duterte said of China.

The ASEAN summit opens today under extra-tight security at a onvention complex by Manila Bay.

Duterte last night hosted a gala dinner for nearly 20 world leaders, including Trump, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Earlier yesterday, riot police used shields and water hoses to push back hundreds of activists who tried to hold a protest at the US embassy in Manila and who carried placards and banners that read “Ban Trump.”

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