South China Sea issue: Philippines, US call for talks; China resists

Territorial claims to the South China Sea will be discussed at the two-day East Asian Summit in Bali this week, the US said on Tuesday, despite China’s desire to keep this sensitive topic off the agenda.

“We believe that the issue of maritime security is an appropriate issue to discuss at the East Asia summit,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters travelling with President Barack Obama to Asia.

“The South China Sea will clearly be a concern,” Rhodes said.

The call for discussion was made by the Philippines Foreign Secretary, Albert del Rosario, who also said the UN should arbitrate the claims.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino is planning to publicly press for talks on the South China Sea dispute, according to Philippine news report.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will travel to Bali, Indonesia, Thursday. But Beijing says China will not discuss the issue.

Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said that the South China Sea issue has nothing to do with the East Asia Summit, which follows a gathering of Southeast Asian leaders at the annual ASEAN meeting.

Liu says the summit is a forum for discussing economic and trade development issues. He says China prefers individual negotiations with the countries involved.

He also warned against efforts to involve outside countries, such as the US, in the territorial dispute.

Countries, including Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, as well as Taiwan, also claim to own all or part of a string of islands in the South China Sea, a vital commercial shipping route rich in oil, minerals and fishery resources.

Those shipping lanes are also a priority for the US, which claims it has a stake in the security and what it describes as unhampered international commerce in the South China Sea.

“What we will be focused upon are the principles that we feel are essential to the continued stability and free flow of commerce in the South China Sea,” Rhodes said.