Singapore (Platts)–5Jul2012/508 am EDT/908 GMT
Chinese state media have criticized the Philippines for trying to fuel tensions in the South China Sea ahead of an upcoming meeting of Southeast Asian countries next week.
“The Philippines is sparing no effort to stir up the South China Sea issue through all sorts of means, and China should be on guard against its plot,” the People’s Daily newspaper said in a commentary on Thursday.
The report added that a few countries including the Philippines had in recent years taken advantage of the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to “stoke tensions over the South China Sea issue” because the summit is traditionally attended by ASEAN representatives and senior diplomats from dialogue partners such as China, Japan, South Korea and the US.
The so-called ASEAN+3 summit of foreign ministers to be held next week in Cambodia will include senior diplomats from the 10 member countries of ASEAN — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam — as well as representatives from China, Japan and South Korea.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday that the dispute would be discussed at next week’s meetings, the Daily Inquirer reported on its website.
“There are a range of topics that would be discussed during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting and one of those would be maritime security including regional issues that concern ASEAN and the region,” Raul Hernandez, a DFA spokesman, was quoted as saying at a Thursday press briefing.
There are no bilateral meetings on the dispute currently planned between China and the Philippines during the summit.
“There will be an ASEAN-China dialogue meeting but as far as I’m concerned there is no scheduled bilateral meeting between the Philippines and China during this trip,” Hernandez said.
A statement on the website of the DFA said topics on the agenda for next week include regional and international issues, maritime security, human rights and the protection of migrant workers, climate change, disaster management, trade, investments and renewable energy, among other issues.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin had said Tuesday at a regular press briefing that the meeting was meant to enhance cooperation and dialogue and was not the right place for Manila to raise the issue of its dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal, a reef off the Philippines in the South China Sea.
He urged the Philippines to focus on issues that are more conducive to regional peace and stability.
Both of Liu’s points were reiterated Thursday in the People’s Daily editorial, which said “it would be unwise to discuss the South China Sea issue at the summit while shelving other major issues.”
The China Daily in a separate editorial Wednesday accused the Philippines of being “obsessed with playing the role of troublemaker” and determined to drag the US into its maritime disputes with China.
“Manila wants ASEAN to endorse its illegal claims and stand against China. Manila has tried in vain on several occasions to sow discord between China and ASEAN. Now it is again attempting to hijack the regional organization and impose its own agenda on it,” the China Daily said.
Tensions in the South China Sea have been high since last year after Philippine and Vietnamese vessels had run-ins with Chinese ships. They flared again in April when Chinese naval vessels prevented the Philippine Coast Guard from arresting Chinese fishermen who were caught at the Scarborough Shoal.
Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have long claimed sovereignty over overlapping areas in the South China Sea.
Disputes over the region arise mostly because of its suspected vast oil and gas reserves.
The disputed region is also a key trading route for the US, which has expressed concern over sporadic flare-ups between countries.
The Philippine skirmish comes amid ongoing conflict between China and Vietnam over nine offshore oil and gas blocks offered by China National Offshore Oil Corp. last month, which are close to Vietnam’s east central coast and overlap acreage already awarded by Hanoi to foreign companies.
State company PetroVietnam on June 29 wrote to international oil companies operating in Vietnam requesting them to respect Vietnam’s sovereignty and jurisdiction by not participating in bidding for the blocks offered by CNOOC.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino is scheduled to meet with his Cabinet Thursday afternoon to discuss the dispute with China over areas in the South China Sea, according to an earlier report on the website of the Daily Inquirer. The newspaper said it will be the second full cabinet meeting in a week to discuss the issue.
Earlier this week, President Aquino said Manila was considering asking the US to deploy spy planes over the South China Sea.
–For a major news feature on how tensions have risen as China offers blocks in waters offshore Vietnam, please go to http://plts.co/schsea12
–Thomas Hogue, firstname.lastname@example.org
–Song Yen Ling, email@example.com
–Edited by Martin O’Rourke, firstname.lastname@example.org
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