Vietnam PM seeks regional unity as China pushes maritime claims

Fri May 31, 2013 11:16am EDT
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By John O'Callaghan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Vietnam's prime minister called for unity among Southeast Asian countries as China asserts its claims to the energy-rich South China Sea, warning that any conflict could disrupt international trade and the global economy.

Tensions in the decades-old territorial dispute between six Asian claimants have risen in recent weeks after Chinese vessels converged near a ship the Philippines ran aground on a reef in 1999 to mark its territory.

"Somewhere in the region, there have emerged preferences for unilateral might, groundless claims and actions that run counter to international law and stem from imposition and power politics," Nguyen Tan Dung said in a speech on Friday at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual regional security forum in Singapore.

"A single irresponsible action or instigation of conflict could well lead to the interruption of huge trade flows, causing unforeseeable consequences not only to regional economies but also to the entire world," he said in remarks translated from Vietnamese.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea as its territory, setting it directly against the Philippines and Vietnam as it displays the growing "blue water" reach of its navy and the United States turns more of its attention to Asia.

Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the South China Sea, whose waters are vital to the international flow of goods and energy and whose seabed is believed to contain rich deposits of oil and natural gas.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is attending the three-day forum convened by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), with the U.S. "pivot" toward Asia, the region's military build-up and the South China Sea high on the agenda.

Stressing the need for "strategic trust", Dung said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must stay united and strong, without any of its 10 members "forced to take sides with one country or the other for the benefit of their own relationships with big powers."   Continued...

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung gives the keynote address at the 12th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore May 31, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su