Friday, May 16, 2014

US, China diverge on territorial spats

From InterAksyon (May 16): US, China diverge on territorial spats


The divergent postures of the United States and China were in stark display as officials from both sides weighed in on their respective positions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

In a joint news conference at the Pentagon, the United States Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui, expressed opposing perspectives on the brewing spats.

China and Vietnam are in a standoff after China deployed installed an oil rig in the Paracel Islands claimed by the two countries. This promptly raised hackles in Vietnam, including violent reprisals against Chinese and ethnic Chinese interests there.

Fang said: "We do not make trouble, but we are not afraid of trouble ... In matters of territory, our attitude is firm. We won't give an inch."

For his part, Dempsey countered: "We have to acknowledge there are territorial disputes," including "what exactly is the status quo and who is seeking to change it," in effect alluding to Washington's perception that China was aiming to take control over the isles being claimed by China and several South East Asia nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines.

There are presently standoffs between China and Vietnam, China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands, even as China and the Philippines are jostling for control over Scarborough Shoal.

The United States has declared that it takes no position on the issue of sovereignty but urges all parties to arrive at diplomatic solutions.

On China's oil rig venture in the Paracels, the US State Department had this to say: "This unilateral action appears to be part of a broader pattern of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed territory in a manner that undermines peace and stability in the region."

In a separate development, the Xinhua news agency reported that two Chinese fishermen released by Philippine authorities have said that the sea turtles they were accused of poaching were actually traded from a Vietnamese fishing boat.

"When we got caught by the Philippine police, it's true that there were dozens of sea turtles on our vessel, but we had exchanged them with Vietnamese fishermen for food," said Li Xianghui, one of the two fishermen released by a Philippine court earlier this week because they were found to be minors.

Philippine media reported that more than 500 sea turtles were found on the Chinese vessel, and many were dead according to photographs published by Philippine police.

"There were not that many turtles on our vessel, and the turtles were still alive when we were caught because we kept them in water tanks for protection," Li said, adding that they were there to catch profitable ornamental fish. It was impossible, he said, for them to catch over 500 sea turtles in such a short period.

"On May 6, we saw seven or eight men with balaclavas on a small boat approaching us. They forcibly boarded our boat and fired shots into the air. We thought they were pirates," Li said.

"We were put in a small cell without beds. Owing to the language barrier, we could not communicate with the Philippine police. They gestured and even threatened us with their guns against our heads," said He Zhuang, who was released with Li.

According to He, the Chinese fishermen were taken to court twice, but they can't understand what the judges said or appeal against the case.

"The Half Moon Shoal is a traditional fishing ground for us," Li said, "this is the first time that we encountered Philippine police, who took a fishing boat to pretend they were fishermen."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry last week urged the Philippines to immediately release the fishermen and make rational explanations.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China claims undisputable sovereign rights over the sea area, including the Half Moon Shoal of Nansha Islands, where the incident occurred.

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