US calls Chinese conduct in South China Sea “illegal” – Radio Free Asia
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin highlighted what he called China’s illegal behavior in the South China Sea, while his Chinese counterpart said Beijing is determined to protect its fundamental interests, at a meeting. organized on Wednesday by ASEAN.
Defense officials from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations virtually met their counterparts from eight countries to discuss maritime security and other issues at the annual forum known as the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus.
In his remarks at the meeting, Austin described the US vision for the Indo-Pacific region, “emphasizing the importance of allies and partners, shared principles and multilateral approaches to addressing security challenges,” according to a statement. by the Pentagon.
“He also highlighted the illegal behavior of the PRC in the South China Sea,” the statement said.
The annual gathering took place as a group of US aircraft carriers conducted a “routine mission” in the South China Sea, the US Navy said on Tuesday, and amid mounting tensions over territorial competition in the way. strategic navigable.
Meanwhile, at the northern end of the South China Sea, Taiwan complained on Tuesday that 28 Chinese Air Force planes had entered its air defense identification zone, in which Taipei said to be the most important in a recent series of provocative military maneuvers near the island.
China regards Taiwan, an autonomous province, as a renegade province waiting to be reunited with the mainland. Taiwan says it is an autonomous democracy officially named the Republic of China.
A statement released in Beijing on Wednesday said Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe told the ADMM Plus meeting that China understands and respects the legitimate security concerns of other countries.
“China’s national interests must also be fully respected and safeguarded,” he said. “On issues related to Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea, China is determined to protect the country’s fundamental interests.”
In early June, Malaysia said 16 Chinese military jets flew in formation in its maritime airspace over the waters of the South China Sea north of the island of Borneo and were about to violate its airspace. territorial. China said the planes were performing “routine flight activity”.
In April, Vietnam denounced China’s unilateral imposition of an annual fishing ban in the South China Sea. Vietnam said the ban violated its sovereignty over the Paracel Islands, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Declaration of Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea agreed in 2003.
Elsewhere, Beijing and Manila have been embroiled in a stalemate since March, when the Philippines said it detected more than 200 ships piloted by Chinese maritime militias at Whitsun Reef in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Beijing claims the reef is one of its “Nansha Islands” – the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands. Since then, China has maintained a presence in Philippine waters, prompting Manila to file multiple diplomatic protests with Beijing.
At Wednesday’s meeting, some attendees also raised concerns about China’s new coastguard law, according to the Philippines.
“On the South China Sea, some Plus countries have expressed concern over the ambiguous application of China’s Coast Guard Law (CGL), while stressing the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight and the early conclusion of a substantive code of conduct, “the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.
“Plus countries” refer to non-ASEAN summit participants, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States. United.
The law, passed in late January, stipulates that the Chinese Coast Guard and other maritime law enforcement agencies may use small arms, such as rifles, or on-board weapons such as deck-mounted cannons. , when handling foreign ships encroaching on waters that China claims to be its own.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi urged all parties to make efforts to resolve maritime disputes peacefully and respect international law, according to a statement released by his ministry.
“He pointed out that there are continued attempts to change the status quo through coercion in the East China Sea and the South China Sea,” the statement said, apparently referring to China.
Kishi, the statement said, stressed that China’s coastguard law “should never prejudice the legitimate interests of the countries concerned.”
China and Japan have a long-standing territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu Dao. The uninhabited islets lie in the deep south of the East China Sea and are a recurring flashpoint between the two countries.
China has asserted what it claims to be its jurisdiction through the deployment of its Coast Guard and Navy, both of which are the largest fleets of their kind in the world, according to the China Military Power Report 2020 by the US Department of Defense.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea region, while the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have their own territorial claims.
Indonesia does not see itself as a party to the territorial disputes over the South China Sea, but Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the maritime region that straddle Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
China and ASEAN have entered protracted negotiations for a code of conduct (CoC) that would govern behavior between applicants in the South China Sea.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi last week called on ASEAN and China to immediately resume negotiations, calling progress “very slow”.
Malaysian Defense Minister Ismail Sabri, for his part, on Wednesday called on the parties in the South China Sea “to be more moderate in their behavior”.
Ismail also stressed that “Malaysia will not compromise on its national security and sovereignty,” a statement released by his office said.
Commenting on territorial competition, Teuku Rezasyah, professor of international relations at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, Indonesia, said China is not contributing to security in the region.
“It’s pretty hard to determine which party is good or bad. But right now, the United States and its allies are not the parties causing problems for ASEAN. China, despite its economic influence, has no contribution to security in the region, ”Rezasyah told BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.
Dewi Fortuna Anwar, an analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), said the South China Sea dispute was unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
“I don’t think this problem will really be solved, because the situation has become a zero-sum game, and I don’t think anyone is in the mood to compromise,” Dewi told BenarNews.
Dewi said a code of conduct in the South China Sea would prevent the situation from escalating into conflict.
“The most possible thing to do now is to deal with potential conflicts so as not to create open friction. For this reason, the COC is very important for ASEAN, ”she said.
Little mention of Myanmar
Addressing Wednesday’s summit, Lloyd Austin, the US defense chief, also called on the Burmese military to “change course,” according to the Pentagon statement, referring to the February 1 coup in it. countries and the murder of hundreds of civilians that followed.
Burmese security forces have killed at least 863 people in a violent crackdown on mass protests against the coup and have detained, charged or sentenced 4,880 since February 1, according to the Thai Humanitarian Assistance Association. political prisoners.
The coup was reportedly discussed on Wednesday and at a meeting the day before of ASEAN defense chiefs, attended by Myanmar’s General Mya Tun Oo, the junta-appointed defense minister.
Joint statements for the meetings, which were posted on the Singapore Ministry of Defense website, did not mention the crisis in Myanmar.
Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.