Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea
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 developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts in the region.
BOLTON: CHINA’S ACTIONS ‘COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE’
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton says China’s actions in the South China Sea are “completely unacceptable” and the U.S. will continue to pursue actions to prevent Beijing from turning the area into “a new Chinese province.”
Bolton told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on Sunday that how to handle China was the “existential security question of the 21st century” for the U.S.
“Contrary to every pledge it’s made before to engage in peaceful negotiation to resolve territorial claims, (China) is taking over these rocks and shoals and islands, building military bases on them,” said Bolton, a noted foreign policy hawk.
“It’s completely unacceptable. It’s why we continue to do freedom of navigation exercises and look at other ways to stop this effort in effect to create a new Chinese province,” he said.
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has kept up a steady pace of such exercises, known as “FONOPs,” aimed at challenging China’s territorial claims and asserting the U.S. military’s right to sail, fly and operate anywhere that is legal under Washington’s interpretation of international law.
VIETNAM: CHINESE VESSEL RAMMED FISHING BOAT
A Vietnamese government official says a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea’s contested Paracel Islands capsized after being rammed by a Chinese vessel.
The official with Vietnam’s National Committee for Search and Rescue said the boat was fishing near Discovery Reef when the incident occurred last week. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
An online report by the newspaper Tuoi Tre said the five crewmen aboard the Vietnamese boat clung to the bow of their upturned vessel for two hours until they were rescued by another Vietnamese fishing boat.
Discovery Reef is 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from Vietnam’s central city of Danang. China seized the Paracel Islands in 1974, but Vietnam maintains its claim.
China said only that one of its government vessels in the area received a distress call and informed Chinese maritime rescue.
CHINA ACCELERATES WORK ON CONDUCT CODE
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says China is accelerating efforts to reach an agreement with the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to avoid conflicts over the South China Sea.
Wang told reporters at an annual news conference Friday that China was sticking to a self-declared target date of 2021 for reaching a “code of conduct,” an act he said reflected China’s “sincerity and sense of responsibility.”
The adoption in 2017 of a framework agreement toward a final pact showed the “road map is already very clear,” Wang said. ASEAN includes four governments involved in the dispute.
Wang declined to say whether China would require the code of conduct that it hopes to sign by 2021 be legally binding.
And despite criticisms that key elements of a potential code remain unknown, Wang said China would “maintain the necessary degree of transparency and publicly announce the state of progress at the appropriate time.”
MAHATHIR TO CHINA: MAKE TERRITORIAL CLAIMS EXPLICIT
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says China should explicitly define its claims so other claimant countries can start to gain benefits from the resource-rich waters.
“We have to talk to China on the definition of their claims and what is meant by their ownership or so-called ownership they claim to have so that we can find ways of deriving some benefits from them,” Mahathir said.
“I think that whatever may be the claim of China, the most important thing is that the South China Sea in particular must be open to navigation,” he said. “There should be no restriction, no sanction, and if that happens, then I think the claims made by China will not affect us very much.”
PHILIPPINE TREATY COMMENTS PROMPT US CONCERN
A top U.S. commander says the United States is talking to Manila about recent comments by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that his country’s 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with Washington should be reviewed.
Lorenzana said the treaty needs to be re-examined to clear ambiguities that could cause chaos and confusion during a crisis.
The United States is more likely to be involved in a “shooting war” in the disputed South China Sea than the Philippines, but the latter would be embroiled in such a conflict just the same because of treaty, he said.
The treaty calls on the U.S. and the Philippines to come to each other’s defense against an external attack.
Speaking in Singapore on Thursday, the head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Phil Davidson, said, “I should note that the Philippines relies heavily on the freedom of the seas and the South China Sea especially.”
Davidson added that he takes the treaty “quite seriously” and that the U.S. Embassy is in contact with the Philippines regarding the matter.