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Manila, Beijing discuss disputed islands
by Staff Writers
Manila, Philippines (UPI) Jul 8, 2011

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Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario is in Beijing for talks concerning disputed islands that increasingly cause friction between the two countries.

During his two-day visit this week del Rosario met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and other officials.

High on the agenda is how to avoid further confrontations between their respective navies and research vessels exploring for natural resources in the seabed.

They were to discuss "how to strengthen high-level exchanges, promote mutually beneficial cooperation, properly handle specific issues in bilateral relations, jointly promote regional cooperation in East Asia and other topics," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

A particular flash point is the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea, or South China Sea as the area is known to Beijing.

Philippines armed forces spokesman Commodore Miguel Rodriguez said del Rosario's visit to China could ease the tensions in the disputed areas, a report in The Philippine Star said.

"There should at least be an agreement with China … in order to stabilize the region and this is good for us," he said.

More exchanges of information as well as a greater openness and transparency of military and resource exploration are needed to avoid conflict.

In March, the Philippines lodged a formal complaint regarding threatening behavior by Chinese patrol boats toward a survey ship at the Reed Bank oil and gas fields off Palawan Island.

Philippines Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said seismic testing for gas by a Singapore-registered, French-owned survey ship in the South China Sea was stopped after the incident.

"They had to pack up and reconstitute everything," Almendras said. "We have to wait but we hope to resume."

When the Philippines air force sent two planes to investigate, the Chinese vessels left area.

The South China Sea is becoming more important to the bordering countries because of potential oil and natural gas deposits. However, poorly defined maritime boundaries means confrontations are becoming more frequent.

In particular, Vietnam and China recently have been at loggerheads concerning high-seas incidents. Last month Vietnam again warned China not to interfere with its marine research vessels after a second confrontation within three weeks.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said a Chinese fishing boat, later joined by two Chinese maritime surveillance ships, intentionally cut a cable being towed by Viking II, a Vietnamese seismic survey ship operating well within Vietnam's 200-mile economic maritime zone.

"The (Chinese) act was absolutely intentional, well-designed and well-prepared," Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga told a news conference in Hanoi.

Other countries that claim islands and sea lanes in the South China Sea around the Spratly Islands are Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Also this week, a high-level Philippines government report suggested Manila review its "one-China" policy in order to strengthen and formalize its economic and cultural ties with Taiwan.

No official diplomatic ties exist between Manila and Taipei because the Philippines adheres to the one-China policy, which recognizes Taiwan as province of mainland China.

But a study group composed of officials from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs and the House of Representatives has questioned the policy under which the Philippines has no direct formal representation in Taiwan.

Under the policy's protocols, the Philippines deported 14 Taiwanese nationals to mainland China instead of to the island in February.

Taiwan protested the deportation and has said it will consider banning of Filipino nationals from working in Taiwan.

The Philippines report recommended the establishment of quasi-government offices in Taiwan by countries with diplomatic relations with China.

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US, Japan, Australia plan South China Sea drill
Tokyo (AFP) July 8, 2011 - The US, Japanese and Australian navies will Saturday hold a joint drill in the South China Sea -- most of which China claims as its maritime territory -- Japan's defence ministry said.

Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force will send destroyer Shimakaze to join a US Navy destroyer and a Royal Australian Navy patrol boat for communications training and other drills off Brunei, the defence ministry said Friday.

It will be their first joint military exercise in the South China Sea, most of which an increasingly assertive China claims as its maritime territory, but where several Southeast Asian nations have competing claims.

"The exercise is aimed at enhancing tactical skills of the Maritime Self-Defence Force and strengthening relations with the participating navies," the ministry said in a statement.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam voicing alarm at what they say are increasingly forceful Chinese actions there.

They include accusations of Chinese forces opening fire on Filipino fishermen, shadowing an oil exploration vessel employed by a Philippine firm, and putting up structures in areas claimed by the Philippines.

Vietnam voiced anger after a Chinese vessel in May cut the exploration cables of a Vietnamese survey ship.

The South China Sea includes the Spratlys, a chain of islands believed to sit on vast mineral resources.

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