World / Asia-Pacific

Philippines risks flaring tensions with island talks

By Cheng Guangjin (China Daily) Updated: 2012-11-23 01:51

The Philippines will hold talks with three other Southeast Asian countries next month on their territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

Manila has raised the territorial issue to distract attention from the recent 21st ASEAN Summit and related summits, analysts said, adding that the focus should be on regional economic cooperation instead of territorial disputes.

Analysts warned that the move risks escalating tensions and harming the cooperative atmosphere among countries in the region.

The deputy foreign ministers of Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines will meet in Manila on Dec 12 as part of Philippine efforts to push for a multilateral solution to their disputes with China, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Wednesday, according to AFP.

The four members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations have overlapping claims on islands in the South China Sea with China. Beijing has insisted on resolving the disputes through a bilateral approach.

"Disputes over the South China Sea can only be resolved through direct bilateral talks among relevant parties," said a Xinhua News Agency commentary published on Wednesday.

"This is the only right track forward, any deviation from which is unwise and short-sighted."

Del Rosario said the four-way meeting was first proposed by the Philippines last year.

"We respect what (China) is suggesting, but we do not accept this," del Rosario said.

Zhang Xuegang, an expert of Southeast Asian studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the territorial disputes should not be flared up to harm the overall cooperation and regional stability.

In seeking a solution, all parties should respect each other's concerns and be on high alert that the negotiations will be used as a tool to exert pressure on others, Zhang warned.

The announcement came just one day after del Rosario returned to Manila from Cambodia, where he attended a series of meetings between ASEAN and regional powers, including the United States, a close ally of the Philippines.

The meetings were overshadowed by the dispute.

Premier Wen Jiabao elaborated on China's position during a closed-door session at the summit on Tuesday, saying China pursues good neighborliness and remains committed to safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea, according to statement from the Foreign Ministry.

AFP contributed to this story.

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