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ASEAN disunity weakening China relations

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (UPI) Apr 1, 2011
An Indian think tank sees the Association of Southeast Asian Nation's lack of a unified front as weakening member states' negotiations with China over numerous maritime disputes.

At stake are billions of dollars of fishing and offshore hydrocarbon assets in disputed regions of western Pacific offshore waters, as China has extended its maritime claims to include nearly all of the South China Sea.

ASEAN neighbors disputing Chinese claims include Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Although 2011 is the 20th anniversary of the commencement of a regular high-level dialogue between ASEAN and China, the two have developed no constructive engagement mechanisms for resolving South China Sea territorial disputes, India's Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies reported Friday.

Last October, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Vietnam to discuss the disputed claims. In 1988 and 1992, the Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed briefly over contesting Chinese and Vietnamese claims to the Paracel Islands.

The Philippines has also laid claim to the Spratly island group, and on March 2, two Chinese patrol boats threatened to ram a Philippine vessel conducting a survey in the Reed Bank of the Spratlys.

China is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with Indonesia over the 272-island Natuna archipelago in the South China Sea, 150 miles northwest of Borneo.

China also has an ongoing maritime dispute with Japan over the Senkaku or Diaoyu Tai islands, which Japan administers.

In a rare instance of China working with its "renegade province" Taiwan, the pair has asserted their claims to the Senkakus, stating that they have been under Chinese sovereignty since the 15th century.

The five small volcanic islands and three rocky outcroppings total only 2.7 square miles, but their surrounding waters allow the establishment under U.N. law of a 200-mile "exclusive economic zone."

None of the islands, which lie 105 miles northeast of Taiwan and 254 miles west of Okinawa, are inhabited. While Japan claims that it discovered the islands and incorporated them in 1895, China and Taiwan maintain that in fact Chinese sailors discovered the archipelago in 1372.

Underlying this diplomatic gridlock is the fact that both ASEAN and China have failed to reach an agreement on guidelines to implement the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Neither China nor ASEAN are willing either to make territorial claim concessions or to present their overlapping claims either in the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

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