by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 17, 2011
The United States and Vietnam on Friday jointly called for freedom of navigation and rejected the use of force in the South China Sea, amid simmering tensions between Beijing and its neighbors.
After talks in Washington, the former war foes said that "the maintenance of peace, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is in the common interests of the international community."
"All territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved through a collaborative, diplomatic process without coercion or the use of force," the two countries said in a joint statement.
Disputes have flared in recent weeks in the South China Sea, with Vietnam holding live-fire military exercises after accusing Chinese ships of ramming an oil survey ship and cutting the exploration cables of another one.
China staged its own three days of military exercises in the South China Sea, which state media said was aimed at boosting the country's offshore maritime patrol force.
"The US side reiterated that troubling incidents in recent months do not foster peace and stability within the region," the statement said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a July 2010 visit to Vietnam that were closely watched around Asia, said that the United States had a vital national interest in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
China has myriad disputes in the potentially resource-rich sea with countries including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines -- which said Friday that it was sending its aging naval flagship into the disputed waters.
Amid the tensions, China said Tuesday that it would not resort to the use of force in the South China Sea and urged other countries to "do more for peace and stability in the region."
In the statement, the United States and Vietnam threw their support for talks under the aegis of a 2002 agreement between China and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in which the two sides pledged to work on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
China and ASEAN have done little in the intervening nine years to reach the code. Diplomats say that the Chinese appear to favor one-on-one talks with each nation, fearing that ASEAN would gang up on them in a group setting.
Despite the memories of war, the United States and Vietnam have been rapidly building relations -- in part due to a spike in tensions between Beijing and Vietnam, which bitterly recalls 1,000 years of Chinese rule.
"The situation with the sovereignty issues in the South China Sea has actually helped our relationship in a sense that they understand that they have a commonality of interest," Senator Jim Webb said at a conference Monday.
Webb, a former combat Marine in Vietnam, said that the United States needed to be firmer on disputes in the South China Sea. The United States officially does not take a position on disputes to which it is not party.
President Barack Obama's administration has put a focus on building ties with growing US-friendly nations in Southeast Asia and has enthusiastically welcomed the growing relationship with Vietnam, which includes military ties.
While mostly supportive of warmer ties, many members of Congress are sharply critical of Vietnam over its human rights record and demand progress in return for better ties. Human rights did not figure in the joint statement.
The annual US-Vietnam talks involved Andrew Shapiro, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, and Vice Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.
earlier related report
However defence department spokesman Eduardo Batac insisted the deployment was a routine assignment and had nothing to do with an announcement by China on Thursday that one of its maritime patrol vessels would pass through the area.
"I don't think these are connected," Batac told reporters.
"The navy conducts regular offshore patrols and we should not connect the deployment of Rajah Humabon to the deployment of this maritime vessel of China."
Batac said he was unaware if the Chinese vessel had reached waters claimed by both countries.
He also did not say when the Philippine vessel would be dispatched or exactly where it would go.
The Rajah Humabon, a former US Navy frigate that served during World War II, is one of the world's oldest warships. It began service in the cash-strapped Philippine Navy in 1980.
Meanwhile, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met with envoys of ASEAN member nations on Friday, calling on them to "take a common position" on the matter.
In the meeting with ambassadors of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, del Rosario said there should be "common approaches in addressing worrisome developments" in the South China Sea.
The Philippines has competing claims with China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei over potentially resource-rich areas in the South China Sea.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are also members of ASEAN along with Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.
Tensions in the long-running dispute over the area have flared in recent months amid allegations by the Philippines and Vietnam that China has become increasingly aggressive in staking its territorial claims.
The Philippines accused China this month of sending naval vessels to intimidate rival claimants around the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
The Philippines also accused China of installing posts and a buoy in nearby areas, opening fire on Filipino fishermen and intimidating a Philippine oil exploration ship with a patrol vessel.
China has maintained throughout the flare-up that its has sole sovereignty over the waters, but that it intends to resolve the dispute peacefully.
Nevertheless, Chinese state media reported on Friday that China had recently staged three days of military exercises in the South China Sea and plans to boost its offshore maritime patrol force.
Del Rosario said the recent incidents showed the need for "collaboration and solidarity (on)... a recurring and an exacerbating problem."
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U.S. pullout exposes Iraq's oil industry
Baghdad (UPI) Jun 17, 2011
U.S. helicopter gunships fired at raiders near Basra, Iraq's second city and strategic oil center in the south, underlining fears that the vital Iraqi oil industry will become a target again as U.S. forces withdraw. The attackers fired seven rockets at Basra's airport but the wider threat has taken on greater significance as the Baghdad government and Washington debate the political ris ... read more
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