Recent developments surrounding South China Sea

FILE - In this July 25, 2017 file photo, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures during a joint news conference with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano following their bilateral meeting in suburban Taguig city, east of Manila, Philippines. Wang said talks on a long-sought code of conduct in the South China Sea that was first mooted in 2002 may finally start this year if “outside parties” don’t cause a major disruption. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2017 file photo, Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Premier Li Keqiang applaud during a ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Xi says China will have the “confidence to conquer all forms of invasion” and won’t allow the loss of “any piece” of its land to outsiders. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool, File)

BEIJING (AP) — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

———

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

———

CHINESE FM SAYS TALKS MAY START THIS YEAR ON CODE OF CONDUCT

China’s foreign minister said talks on a long-sought code of conduct in the South China Sea that were first mooted in 2002 may finally start this year if “outside parties” don’t cause a major disruption.

Chinese and ASEAN foreign ministers approved a negotiating framework for a code of conduct during a meeting at the weekend in the Philippines. The idea is to draw up an outline of the rules and responsibilities for the countries to prevent clashes from erupting in the contested waters. However, the initial roadmap doesn’t say whether the code of conduct will be legally binding or enforceable.

China had long been perceived as delaying negotiations with ASEAN so it can undertake and complete construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea without being restricted by any maritime code.

Wang said the start of talks may be announced by the heads of state of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations at their annual summit in the Philippines in November if Beijing’s conditions are met. He said those conditions include a “stable situation” in the South China Sea and non-interference by “outside parties,” an apparent reference to the United States. Beijing frequently accuses the U.S. of meddling in what it says is an Asian dispute that should be resolved only by the countries involved.

Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton said countries locked in the sea disputes should “stop improving or expanding or militarizing any of their outposts.”

Wang’s mention of the vague conditions can allow China to delay or halt the planned talks for any reason. Differing expectations between Beijing and ASEAN of what the code of conduct should look like also likely mean the negotiations will be anything but straightforward.

———

ASEAN NATIONS CRITICIZE CHINA’S LAND RECLAMATIONS

ASEAN foreign ministers defied China’s steadfast stance and overcame their own disagreements to issue a joint statement criticizing Beijing’s land reclamation and military fortifications in the South China Sea.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has tried to fortify its foothold in recent years by transforming reefs into island outposts, some with runways and radars and — more recently — weapons systems.

The U.S. and ASEAN claimants to the waters and islands oppose the work. They are wary of restrictions on ship movements in a key waterway for world trade which boasts rich fishing grounds and a potential wealth of undersea oil, gas and mineral deposits.

These tensions divide ASEAN. Some ASEAN nations want to stand firmly together against Beijing, while others who depend heavily on China for trade and investment are wary about possible retaliation.

ASEAN foreign ministers failed to promptly issue a joint communique after their annual gathering Saturday due to a disagreement over whether to include criticism, even indirectly, of China’s activities in the contested territories.

Then, in a surprise move late Sunday, they indirectly criticized Beijing’s land reclamation and military fortifications in the disputed waters.

They also in their 46-page statement referred vaguely to an international arbitration ruling last year that invalidated China’s historical claims to virtually all the strategic waterway.

The regional grouping decides by consensus, and last year Cambodia and Laos, who receive massive aid from China, blocked any mention of the arbitration ruling in the final text.

———

US, CHINESE, JAPANESE NAVIES END SEARCH FOR MISSING US SAILOR

The U.S., Chinese and Japanese navies ended a three-day search for a missing sailor who was believed to have gone overboard in the South China Sea.

Vessels and aircraft, including two Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates and aircraft from two Japan Maritime Self-Defense ships, had combed roughly 10,000 square miles (30,000 square kilometers) of the sea west of the Philippines by Friday. The U.S. Navy said the joint search had demonstrated “the common bond shared by all mariners to render assistance at sea.”

The sailor was from the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem, based in Yokosuka, Japan. He was reported missing on Aug. 1.

China accused the U.S. in July of trespassing in its waters when the Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles (32 kilometers) of Triton Island in the Paracel Group.

The operation was aimed at affirming the right to passage and challenging what the U.S. considers China’s excessive territorial claims in the area. China sent ships to intercept the destroyer.

———

XI SAYS CHINA WON’T ALLOW THE LOSS OF “ANY PIECE” OF ITS TERRITORY

Chinese President Xi Jinping says China will have the “confidence to conquer all forms of invasion” and won’t allow the loss of “any piece” of its land to outsiders.

His words were contained in a speech in Beijing marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

It strikes a similar note to other tough talk by Xi about China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors, including in the South China Sea.

———

Follow Louise Watt on Twitter at twitter.com/louise—watt

ADVERTISEMENT