US takes up sea disputes, gaps on Syria at Asia forum

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US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a press conference at the Asean meeting in the International Conference Center in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, Monday. AP

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN—Asia-Pacific security talks opened Tuesday with Beijing under pressure over its West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) claims while Washington and Moscow were to meet amid disagreements on Syria and their tug-of-war over US fugitive Edward Snowden.

The annual regional forum hosted this year by Brunei began a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry closed ranks with Southeast Asian nations in urging substantive talks on the disputed West Philippine Sea in comments targeted at Beijing.

Concerns have been rising that actions by China to increase its grip on disputed islets in the sea, a key corridor for regional and world trade, could lead to conflict with rival claimants.

On Sunday, the Philippines told a gathering of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that China was engaging in a military buildup at sea that threatened regional peace.

Asean has been pushing a reluctant China for talks on a set of rules governing conduct at sea meant to avert unilateral actions that could spark trouble.

“We very much hope to see progress on a substantive code of conduct to help ensure stability in this vital region,” Kerry told his Asean counterparts Monday.

On the final day of a flurry of back-to-back diplomatic events in the sultanate, Kerry also was to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Kerry said he would seek progress towards an elusive international conference to end Syria’s civil war.

Russia has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the more than two-year conflict that has claimed nearly 100,000 lives, while Washington has said it is boosting support for the rebel movement.

But their meeting takes place under a cloud spawned by the sensational case of Snowden, who has been in limbo for a week in a Moscow airport in a globe-circling asylum bid.

In the latest twist, Moscow revealed Snowden had applied for political asylum in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin had earlier said Snowden was welcome to stay.

“If he wants to remain here there is one condition — he should stop his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners no matter how strange this may sound coming from me,” Putin said.

Snowden had worked as a contractor for the US National Security Agency before his damaging leaks on a global US surveillance program began emerging in early June.

Kerry flew to Brunei from days of exhaustive talks in the Middle East aimed at restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and straight into the Snowden controversy after German media reported some of the spying was targeted at European allies.

Kerry said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton raised concerns about the reports when they met one-to-one in Brunei and the US diplomat said he would get back to her after looking into the reports.

France on Monday warned the allegations of US spying in Europe threatened talks on a crucial free trade pact, while US President Barack Obama also vowed to respond to Europe’s concerns once he had all the facts.

China claims virtually all of the West Philippine Sea and has long resisted moves to talk with the Asean grouping as a whole, reluctant to cede any ground on its claims.

On Sunday in Brunei, it agreed with Asean to begin discussing a code of conduct, but a senior US government official played down the move as a bid to deflect criticism.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “it’s not enough to simply promise some form of talks in the run-up to a multilateral meeting as a way of abating criticism and creating the appearance of progress.”

China was sending a conflicting message by sending large numbers of fishing or law enforcement vessels to hotly disputed areas, the official added, calling such behavior “highly problematic and destabilizing”.

But Kerry said after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that the two Pacific powers were united, along with Japan and South Korea, in their opposition to North Korea’s nuclear drive.

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  • Meow Ming

    On Sunday in Brunei, it agreed with Asean to begin discussing a code of conduct, but a senior US government official played down the move as a bid to deflect criticism.

    The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “it’s not enough to simply promise some form of talks in the run-up to a multilateral meeting as a way of abating criticism and creating the appearance of progress.”

    China was sending a conflicting message by sending large numbers of fishing or law enforcement vessels to hotly disputed areas, the official added, calling such behavior “highly problematic and destabilizing”.

    Even if the ASEAN come up with another code of conduct, How will they know that China will honor it? When it comes to honoring any such agreement, China is the least that you can trust.

    • nick

      they will know… my god… whatta question!

  • isidro c. valencia

    If China insists on its stubborn position disregarding Asean members and other international organizations for the code of conduct , we don’t need military strike, it is only a last option.

    Asean and other world organizations should forge together a coercive act for economic sanctions against China. Terminate all trade agreements with China. That will give China a lesson for not respecting its neighbors, for bullying and disregarding lesser military force like the Philippines.

    Before China had initiated the Bamboo or Iron curtain and isolated itself from its outside world thinking they can live on its own natural resources. But that was a failure for no man is an island until they learned trading and almost conquered the world with its cheap goods resulting to dislocate US goods in the market.

    Military might is nothing against economic dislocations. Let China and North Korea talk to each other. Let us not talk to them. There are now organizations in the United States led by Lewis et al boycotting products MADE IN CHINA.

    We could make it here in the Philippines, our rallying cry :

    GOODS RETURNED TO CHINA OR

    MADE IN CHINA UNFIT FOR HUMAN BEING.

    • zymygy

      I like to see the day that China will go back a Mao Tse Tung era.Where everyday wears only black pyjamas,food are limited and supplies are ration.Luckily today their lifestyle is the same as a free country.

  • SaintJames2011

    History repeats itself — look what happen when Russia invaded Afghanistan and Iraq invaded Kuwait. Free worlds will unite against China if it invades West Philippine Sea and parts of South China Sea.

  • ohmypinas

    we were made a big mistake when we sent our battleship in panatag shoal to make arrest to those chinese fishermen… that was well planned by the communist regime

    we were deceived once when we pulled out our ships from the said lagoon in agreement that they would do the same…

    now, they are trying to push us to take the first shot against their warship so they could justify their main objective….

    a tripartite mutual defense treaties with US and Japan is needed to stop this imaginary 9 dash line…

  • mga BaBoY sa Goberno

    US has no balls to confront the aggresiveness of china in south china sea. small nations in south china sea should not rely too much of the americans.

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