China tells U.S. to respect its territorial claims

July 23, 2011 - 0:0

BALI, Indonesia (Dispatches) —China told the United States on Friday to respect Chinese “territorial integrity”, amid simmering tensions focused on the West Philippine Sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made the comments to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a bilateral meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, according to a spokesman from China’s delegation, AFP reported.
“The Chinese side raised its own concerns, which is that it is important to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China,” spokesman Liu Weiming said.
“And to respect China’s major concerns in the issues of Tibet and some other sensitive issues, I sense that the U.S. side understands the sensitivity of these issues and they agreed to further promote dialogue and mutual understanding.”
Liu said Yang and Clinton specifically discussed the West Philippine Sea, known also as South China Sea, which China claims as its own.
Tensions in the decades-long dispute flared in recent months amid accusations by the Philippines and Vietnam that China was being increasingly aggressive in staking its claim to the sea.
China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced on Wednesday in Bali a “breakthrough” in the dispute, endorsing a set of guidelines designed to reduce tensions in the waters.
On the sidelines of a Southeast Asian regional security conference in Bali, Indonesia, China and its neighbors reached a draft agreement to peacefully resolve competing territorial claims in the strategic South China Sea while North and South Korea agreed to resume talks. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton commended Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the deal and expressed cautious hope that discussion between Seoul and Pyongyang could help re-launch stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations with the North.
""I want to commend China and ASEAN for working so closely together to include implementation guidelines for the declaration of conduct in the South China Sea,"" Clinton told Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at the meeting, AP reported.
Yang said he believed the agreement would go ""a long way"" in promoting ""peace and stability"" in the resource-rich South China Sea, through which one-third of the world's shipping passes. ""This will of course provide favorable conditions for the proper handling and settlement of disputes among claimants,"" he said.
China, which claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, has been accused in recent months of trying to intimidate oil exploration by the Philippines and Vietnam in waters that are partially claimed also by those two countries and Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia. Beijing long has resisted calls for a binding code of conduct that would require disputes in the waterway to be solved peacefully and without threats of violence.
Last year, Clinton raised Beijing's ire by saying resolution to the disputes was a U.S. national security interest because of Washington's desire to guarantee navigational safety and maritime security in the South China Sea. She made the matter a central point of her participation in the East Asia Summit hosted by Vietnam, something that U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to restate when he attends that event this year.
U.S. officials are keen to see the deal implemented but warned that much more work needed to be done. Clinton said she would lay out U.S. ideas for making it work in a speech to the forum on Saturday. ""It's an important first step,"" Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia, told reporters. ""It has lowered tensions. It has improved the atmosphere. But clearly it is just that, a first step, and we're going to need to see some follow-up actions between China and ASEAN.""
The Clinton-Yang meeting appeared friendly, which was seen as unusual given that Beijing just last week angrily condemned the White House meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, which China claims as a province. The matter was not mentioned in public, although a Chinese spokesman said afterward that Yang had raised the importance of respecting China's ""sovereignty and territorial integrity,"" including Tibet.
The U.S. and China are also both major players with significant stakes in the resumption of dialogue between North and South Korea and six-nation talks aimed at convincing the North to give up its nuclear weapons program.
On that front, North Korea on Friday announced it had appointed a new top envoy to the six-party talks that include the North and the South, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. And, the North and South agreed to hold a working-level meeting on the sidelines of the annual ASEAN Regional Forum on Friday, their first public discussion in months. The North, which stands to get badly needed aid and other concessions if it returns to the six-party talks, has indicated in recent months that it might be ready.
North Korea's main ally, China, has been pressing for a speedy resumption in the six-nation disarmament talks but the U.S. and others have held out, saying that meaningful North-South dialogue must occur first. A senior U.S. official said Washington was pleased to see the North and South getting together again but said it would take several days to determine whether the rapprochement was enough to warrant a return to the table.
Clinton told Yang she was eager to discuss with him ""our mutual desire for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula"" but offered no hint on whether the U.S. would agree to resume the nuclear talks.
Yang, however, signaled China's intense interest in getting things back on track.
""We need to work together,"" he said. ""Anything we can do together to promote better atmosphere and good dialogue among the parties concerned and to work together to restart the six-party talks would be in the best interests of peace, stability and security of the region.""
The disarmament talks have been stalled since 2008, when North Korea walked out to protest international criticism of a prohibited long-range rocket launch. Tensions between the North and South have remained testy ever since.