China: ASEAN countries can ‘handle’ South China Sea issues alone


MANILA – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Tuesday called on the Philippines and other South-East Asian countries to “say no” to non-regional forces that seek to intervene in disputes over the South China Sea.

The situation in the area “is trending towards stability” amid the cooperation among China, the Philippines and other members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said Wang, who was in Manila for an official visit.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a key shipping lane that is believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have overlapping claims to the area.

Wang said that the framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea was “taking shape” in talks between China and ASEAN.

“This fact shows to the world that China and ASEAN countries have full capability and wisdom to handle differences between us and maintain stability in the South China Sea,” Wang told a press conference, after meeting with Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

Wang claimed that external players “don’t want to see stability in the South China Sea,” adding that “we need to stand together and say no to them together.”

China has repeatedly stressed in the past that countries that have no claims to the South China Sea should not interfere in efforts to resolve the territorial disputes in the area.

The United States has been conducting “freedom of navigation” patrols in the South China Sea since the administration of former president Barack Obama.

On July 2, the guided-missile destroyer USS Stehtem sailed close to the Paracel Archipelago in the South China Sea, prompting an angry response from Beijing which described the action as a “serious provocation.”

In July last year, an international court in The Hague invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the sea in a case filed by the Philippines, but Beijing does not recognize the ruling and has insisted on bilateral talks to resolve the issue.

Since then, the Philippines and China have begun bilateral talks on how to resolve their dispute and have even resumed discussions on possible joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.

Wang said a joint development was the best option in areas where there are overlapping maritime rights and interests.

“If one party goes for unilateral development, then the other party will take the same actions; that might complicate the situation in the area,” he said.

“In the end, perhaps no one will be able to develop the resources,” he added.

Cayetano said the joint development was the next stage towards improving ties between the Philippines and China, which had been strained after the arbitral case was filed in The Hague by the previous administration.

“The natural phase two of a better relationship and of an environment of dialogue, of peace and stability, is seeking to be able to use those natural resources to benefit your people,” the Philippine minister said.