China says does not want South China Sea overshadowing summit

Sat Nov 17, 2012 8:03am EST
 

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING/PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A regional summit in Cambodia should not be overshadowed by a dispute over the South China Sea as the situation is under control and countries involved can resolve differences themselves, a top Chinese diplomat said on Saturday.

China's assertion of sovereignty over the stretch of water off its south coast and to the east of mainland Southeast Asia has set it directly against Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts, making it Asia's biggest potential military trouble spot.

But Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said the dispute was well in hand, ahead of a meeting beginning this weekend of regional leaders in Cambodia attended by Southeast Asian heads of states as well as China's Premier Wen Jiabao and U.S. President Barack Obama.

"As soon as this region is bought up everyone thinks it's very dangerous, very turbulent, because of the South China Sea issue. In fact, over the past few years, China and the countries surrounding the South China Sea have successfully controlled the dispute and not let it intensify," Fu told reporters.

Asia's experience since the end of the Cold War of avoiding large-scale conflict showed that the South China Sea issue was also manageable, she said.

China, however, has resisted proposals for multilateral talks on the sea, preferring to try to negotiate disputes with each of the far less powerful individual claimants. It has also opposed Washington's attempts to get involved.

Unprecedented arguments over a push to introduce a code of conduct, or common approach, to territorial tension with China led to the collapse of a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in July, preventing the issuing of a joint communique by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the first time in its 45-year history.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said such disarray within the bloc could not be repeated.   Continued...

 
Fu Ying, China's Vice Foreign Minister, reacts as she attends a plenary session during the World Policy Conference at the historic Hofburg palace in Vienna December 10, 2011. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer