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ASEAN ministers express concern over Chinese actions at sea
by Staff Writers
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (AFP) Jan 28, 2015


India sends foreign minister to China after Obama visit
New Delhi (AFP) Jan 28, 2015 - India's foreign minister will travel to China this weekend, New Delhi said on Wednesday, a day after Barack Obama ended a visit aimed at renewing US ties with the South Asian country.

Sushma Swaraj will hold three-way talks with her Chinese and Russian counterparts during the trip, her first official visit since she took office last year, the Indian foreign ministry said.

The talks follow a high-profile visit to New Delhi by the US president aimed at cementing ties between the two countries, which share an interest in curbing China's growing regional influence.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said they were aimed at enhancing "political trust".

"China and India are two largest developing countries and major emerging economies," she said.

"We are enhancing our mutual political trust and practical cooperation in various fields."

Although neither side mentioned China by name during Obama's three-day visit, the US president welcomed what he called a "greater role for India in the Asia Pacific" and said freedom of navigation in the region must be upheld.

Beijing claims sovereignty over large swathes of the South China Sea, home to maritime lanes that are vital to global trade.

India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely seen as taking a more assertive line on China than the previous government.

But experts say he will be careful not to alienate China, whose investment he desperately needs as he tries to boost India's economy.

Obama and Modi took pains to demonstrate their personal rapport during the US president's visit.

China's state news agency Xinhua said it was a "superficial rapprochement", pointing to persistent differences on issues such as climate change.

burs-cc/kb

Southeast Asian foreign ministers on Wednesday expressed concern at Chinese land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea, as the Philippines urged them to stand up to Beijing.

The statement came after Manila warned fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a ministers' retreat in Malaysia that the 10-country grouping's credibility was at stake unless it dealt strongly with the "critical issue in our own backyard".

"The retreat shared the concern raised by some foreign ministers on land reclamation in the South China Sea," said a statement by the gathering's host, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, following the two-day meeting.

It mentioned no specific countries.

Wary of upsetting relations with its giant neighbour to the north, ASEAN has for years responded cautiously to China's increasingly assertive moves to stake its claims in the South China Sea.

China claims almost all of the sea, a position that conflicts with ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as with non-member Taiwan.

Beijing has sparked growing alarm around the region with actions viewed as aggressive, raising fears of conflict.

Philippine foreign minister Albert del Rosario said last week Beijing was trying to construct islands around isolated reefs in the Spratly islands, which could hold fortified positions or even airstrips.

"The massive reclamation issue presents a strategic policy dilemma for ASEAN," he said in a statement Wednesday.

"Our inaction on this would undermine (ASEAN unity), since we are unable to address in a unified and collective way such a critical issue in our own backyard."

He also said the international community must "say to China that what it is doing is wrong -- that it must stop its reclamation activities at once".

The foreign ministers met in the city of Kota Kinabalu on Borneo island -- on the shores of the disputed waterway -- in the first of several diplomatic gatherings this year in Malaysia, which holds the ASEAN chair for 2015.

Anifah's statement called on ASEAN to step up efforts to achieve implementation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea aimed at preventing conflict.

After years of pressure, China agreed in 2013 to talks with ASEAN on the issue.

But many analysts question Beijing's commitment and say it is likely stalling while it shores up its maritime claims.

China's foreign ministry dismissed Manila's accusations in the land reclamation row, saying last week that "small countries cannot make trouble out of nothing".

Del Rosario has said the Chinese reclamation would impair freedom of navigation in the waters, through which much of the world's trade passes.


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