Tuesday, July 8, 2014

US official: Beijing's South China Sea claim problematic

Posted to InterAksyon (Jul 8): US official: Beijing's South China Sea claim problematic

Beijing's claim to almost the whole of the South China Sea is "problematic" and the Asian giant's actions have raised tensions, a senior US official said Tuesday on the eve of high-stakes talks.

China also disputes islands with Japan -- a US security ally that Washington is treaty-bound to defend if attacked -- and officials travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry said they had "heightened concerns" about "the readiness of claimants to utilise military, paramilitary, coastguard forces in furtherance of their claims".

Kerry arrived in Beijing Tuesday for the sixth Strategic and Economic Dialogue, billed as the main annual meeting between the world's two largest economies.

The two days of tough discussions will seek to chart a path ahead in turbulent China-US ties roiled by differences over Asia-Pacific maritime tensions, Internet hacking and trade issues.

China's claim to the strategic South China Sea -- also claimed in part by the Philippines and Vietnam, among others -- is based on a line drawn on 20th century maps.

"The ambiguity associated with the nine-dash line is problematic," said a US official travelling with Kerry.

China and its neighbours have stepped up their patrols of disputed areas, and recent spats in the South China Sea have led to boats ramming each other, the use of water cannon and arrests of fishermen.

The heightened tensions are "very relevant to the United States as a Pacific power, as a major trading nation, as an important consumer of the sea lanes and as a long-term guarantor of stability in the Asia-Pacific region," the senior US administration official said.

The official spoke anonymously in order to discuss the talks frankly, and added that the conversation will be held in "a very direct, candid, and constructive way".

In a related development, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday played down recent tensions with neighbor China, saying the countries were "inextricably linked" and his door was always open for dialogue.

Tokyo and Beijing have long been at odds over islands in the East China Sea, with simmering distrust flaring last week after Japan relaxed restrictions on the use of its armed forces in a controversial change in military policy.

Abe was in the Australian capital Canberra where he and counterpart Tony Abbott signed an agreement on closer defense ties, a move that could further anger China.

"The China relationship is one of our most important bilateral relationships, so it should be a mutually beneficial relationship based on strategic interests," Abe said at a press conference.

"The door to China is open from the Japanese side and we hope that the Chinese side take the same posture."

He added that the "fundamental position of Japan is that we want to improve our relationship with China".

In an interview with The Australian newspaper Abe urged Beijing to play a constructive role in regional security.

"Japan and China are inextricably linked to each other. It is not uncommon for various unresolved issues to exist between neighboring countries," he said.

"China is a major country which, together with Japan and Australia, has to play a prominent role in ensuring the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region.

"It is my strong expectation China will abide by international norms and play a constructive role in dealing with regional issues.

"In accordance with the principle of a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests, I would like to develop relations with China in a way that keeps a broad perspective."

China last week lashed out at Abe after his cabinet formally endorsed a reinterpretation of a constitutional clause banning the use of armed force except in very narrowly-defined circumstances.

Beijing argued that it could open the door to remilitarization of a country it considers insufficiently penitent for its actions in World War II.

Tensions also continue to simmer over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, which China also claims and calls the Diaoyus.

During his visit to Australia, Abe attended a meeting of the cabinet-level National Security Committee in Canberra and addressed parliament, the first Japanese leader to do so.

The two sides also finalised a deal to share defense technology, which could lead to closer cooperation on submarine technology and an increase in joint military training.

Abe said in the interview that Australia and Japan had become "strategic partners through deepening concrete defense cooperation", as well as through joint peacekeeping efforts, joint military exercises and exchanges of defence leaders.

Abbott also moved to reassure China, saying Canberra's closer defence relationship with Japan was "not a partnership against anyone; it's a partnership for peace, for prosperity and for the rule of law".

"Our objective is engagement. We both welcome the greater trust and openness in our region that's exemplified by China's participation in this year's RIMPAC naval exercises," he told parliament.


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