Need diplomatic approach to resolve disputes in S China Sea: US

  • PTI, Washington
  • Updated: May 14, 2015 12:26 IST

The US has called for diplomatic approach among countries to resolve territorial claim disputes in South China Sea, citing the recent India-Bangladesh land swap deal.

"We have not witnessed another conflict like those in recent years, the increasing frequency of incidents in the South China Sea highlights the need for all countries to move quickly in finding peaceful, diplomatic approaches to address these disputes," Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel R Russel said on Wednesday.

There are instances throughout the region where neighbors have peacefully resolved differences over overlapping maritime zones, he told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing.

"We know that this is possible. Recent examples include Indonesia's and the Philippines' successful conclusion of negotiations to delimit the boundary between their respective exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and India's and Bangladesh's move to accept the decision of an arbitral tribunal with regard to their overlapping EEZ in the Bay of Bengal," he said.

"There have also been instances where claimants have agreed to shelve the disputes and find peaceful ways to manage resources in contested areas. In its approach to the East China Sea, Taiwan forged a landmark fishing agreement with Japan through cooperative dispute resolution. These examples should be emulated," Russel said.

All disputes over claims in the South China Sea should be pursued, addressed, and resolved peacefully, he asserted.

Claimants should use negotiations to try and resolve the competing sovereignty claims over land features and competing claims to maritime resources.

However, the fact remains that if every claimant continues to hold a position that their respective territorial and maritime claims are "indisputable", that leaves parties with very little room for compromise.

He said mutually agreeable solutions to jointly manage or exploit marine resources are more difficult to find if not all claimants are basing their claims on the Law of the Sea.

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised concerns about the US losing credibility in the Asia-Pacific by the Obama administration providing no effective deterrent to China's actions.

"I see no price whatsoever that China is paying for their activities in the South and East China Seas. None... We're paying the price," he said.

"We have our (Asian allies)... constantly worried about... what our commitment levels are.., pointing out that our foreign military financing in that region is one percent of what it is in the rest of the world. And they question whether there really is any kind of 'pivot' or 'rebalance' (by the US to the Asia-Pacific)," Coker said.

Over the past 12 months, he alleged China has engaged in extensive land-reclamation and construction along the Paracel and Spratly Island chains despite competing claims to the territory among multiple sovereign nations.

David Shear Assistant Secretary, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Department of Defense, said the challenges being faced by the United States in South China Sea are troubling, but not new.

"While other claimants have upgraded their South China Sea outposts over the years, China's land reclamation activity vastly exceeds these other claimants' activities," he said.

Since 2014, China has reclaimed 2,000 acres - more land than all other claimants combined over the history of their claims, he told lawmakers.

"We are concerned that the scope and nature of China's actions have the potential to disrupt regional security," Shear said.

"China's actions and increased presence could prompt other regional governments to respond by strengthening their military capabilities at their outposts, which would certainly increase the risk of accidents or miscalculations that could escalate," he said.

"In contrast to China, the other claimants have been relatively restrained in their construction activities since the signing of the China-ASEAN Declaration of Conduct in 2002. This restraint may not hold in the face of China's unprecedented altering of the post-DOC status quo," he added.

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