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Direct bilateral dialogue 'best way to solve disputes'

By Li Xiaokun and Zhang Ting (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-26 08:25
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Foreign minister warns of South China Sea issue

Beijing - Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Sunday warned some countries not to "internationalize" the territorial dispute over the South China Sea that Beijing faces with its neighbors, following comments by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the issue at a regional security meeting.

"What will be the consequences if this issue is turned into an international or multilateral one? It will only make matters worse and the resolution more difficult," Yang was quoted as saying in a press release posted on the ministry's website on Sunday.

"International practices show that the best way to resolve such disputes is for countries concerned to have direct bilateral negotiations," he said.

Yang made the remarks after Clinton spoke at the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Regional Forum in Vietnam, where she said resolving disputes over the South China Sea was "pivotal" to regional stability and suggested an international mechanism to solve the issue.

"The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea," Clinton said at Asia's largest security dialogue.

Washington has called for unfettered access to the area and accused Beijing of adopting an increasingly aggressive stance on the high seas.

China has territorial disputes with a few ASEAN member countries.

The South China Sea is currently a peaceful area with navigational freedom, he said. "Trade has been growing rapidly in this region and China has become the number one trading partner of many countries in the region," Yang said. "In my bilateral discussions with both ASEAN colleagues and others, they all say that there is no threat to regional peace and stability."

He also said it is not China but some other country that is "coercing" regional countries to take sides on the issue and that Asia can solve its own problems without interference by outside countries.

ASEAN is also not an appropriate forum to resolve the issue, Yang said.

"China and some ASEAN nations have territorial and maritime rights disputes because we are neighbors. And those disputes shouldn't be viewed as ones between China and ASEAN as a whole just because the countries involved are ASEAN members," he said.

Yang said the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and ASEAN member countries in 2002 has

played a good role in containing regional conflicts and will see high-level meetings when conditions are mature. In the declaration, the countries pledged to "exercise restraint, and not to make it an international issue or multilateral issue."

"Channels of discussion are there, and they are open and smooth," Yang said.

A dozen Asian delegates went up to Yang after his speech, saying that Yang's remarks offered a clear explanation of China's policy toward the South China Sea issue.

Su Hao, a researcher on Asia-Pacific studies with the Beijing-based China Foreign Affairs University, said there have been many "subtle changes" in the South China Sea issue in the past year, with countries including Vietnam becoming much tougher and Washington moving away from its previous low-profile tone.

"I'm sure the US is the basic reason for the change - it is supporting the other sides," Su said.

"During a recent visit to Vietnam, I told a Vietnamese officer with diplomatic background that our late leader Deng Xiaoping had said 'since we can't solve the South China Sea issue, we can leave it to the next generation which will be smarter'," he said.

The officer told Su that that is why they have to solve it now.

"The deteriorating situation is not China's fault," Su said.

Shi Zhan, an international studies researcher at China Foreign Affairs University, said the US is also re-flexing its muscles in the South China Sea partly because of the resources in the area.

Agencies contributed to this story.

China Daily

(China Daily 07/26/2010 page1)