"Good neighbor' China pushes Asean for joint development in seas

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Vietnamese soldiers stationed on the Da Dong islet of the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago

China repeated a call for joint development of energy resources in waters claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines before a regional security meeting today that includes US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Envoys from 26 Asia-Pacific nations and the European Union are meeting in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia, to discuss security concerns in the region. China warned nations this week to avoid mentioning the territorial spat, which Clinton called a "critical issue" two days ago in a visit to Vietnam.

"Pending the settlement of the disputes, the parties concerned may put aside their differences and engage in joint development," Zhang Jianmin, spokesman for the Chinese delegation to the meetings, told the official Xinhua News yesterday. "China will always be a good neighbor, good friend and good partner for other Asia-Pacific countries," he said.

The Philippines and Vietnam reject China's map of the waters as a basis for joint development and have sought a regional solution to increase their bargaining power with Asia's biggest military spender. Clinton has urged the countries to define their territory based on the United Nations Law of the Sea, a move China has resisted because it may lead to a loss of some waters it now claims.

Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, known as PetroVietnam, last month called for China National Offshore Oil Corp., the government-owned parent of Cnooc Ltd., to cancel an invitation for foreign companies to explore nine blocks that overlap with areas awarded to Exxon Mobil Corp., Moscow-based OAO Gazprom and India's Oil & Natural Gas Co. PetroVietnam will continue exploring in the area, Chief Executive Officer Do Van Hau told reporters on June 28.

Energy resources

Chinese vessels last year cut the cables of a PetroVietnam survey ship and chased away a boat in waters delimited by the Philippines. The region is estimated to have as much as 30 billion metric tons of oil and 16 trillion cubic meters of gas, which would account for about one-third of China's oil and gas resources, according to Xinhua. China had 2 billion tons of proven oil reserves and 99 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in 2010, according to BP Plc estimates.

China has also clashed with Japan over a disputed island chain known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, where both countries have sent patrol boats in recent weeks. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba yesterday in Phnom Penh that he hopes Japan will appropriately handle problems in the bilateral relationship, Xinhua reported.

Enforceable code

Asean countries, including four with claims in the South China Sea, reached an agreement this week on rules for operating in the waters and will seek talks with China. The Philippines called for an enforceable code of conduct during a meeting of envoys from Asean, China, Japan and South Korea, according to a statement citing Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

He called for "the eventual realization of a credible, binding and enforceable regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea," according to the statement.

Asean has achieved a "milestone" because all countries are now committed to agree to a legally binding code of conduct, according to Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan. Last year, Asean and China agreed on guidelines to implement a non-binding agreement signed in 2002.

The 2002 Asean-China statement calls on signatories to avoid occupying disputed islands, inform others of military exercises and resolve territorial disputes peacefully. The eight guidelines approved last year say activities in the sea should be step-by-step, on a voluntary basis and based on consensus.

"The fact that it's on the right track it's already lessening the anxiety of the international community and of the regional states that there could be some potential conflicts and tension in the region," Surin said in Phnom Penh yesterday.

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