USA says South China Sea talks will be a key test

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USA says South China Sea talks will be a key test

Japan's new foreign minister and his Chinese counterpart held their first talks on Monday, with the Chinese envoy voicing disappointment about criticism of Beijing's activities in the South China Sea. The idea is to draw up an outline of the rules and responsibilities for the countries to prevent clashes from erupting in the contested waters.

All parties say the framework is only an outline for how the code will be established but critics say the failure to outline as an initial objective the need to make the code legally binding and enforceable, or have a dispute resolution mechanism, raises doubts about how effective the pact will be.

Several Asean countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have said they still favour making the code legally binding, something experts say China is unlikely to agree to.

Wang said the start of talks may be announced by the heads of state of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations at their annual summit in the Philippines in November if Beijing's conditions are met. She says the USA plans to discuss the issue with other Asian nations during a regional meeting taking place in the Philippines. Differing expectations between Beijing and ASEAN of what the code of conduct should look like also likely mean the negotiations will be anything but straightforward.

China's territorial disputes in the strategic and potentially oil- and gas-rich waterway with Taiwan and ASEAN member states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam intensified after Beijing built islands in the disputed waters in recent years and reportedly started to install a missile defense system on them, alarming rival claimant states as well as the USA and other Western governments.

The U.S. and ASEAN claimants to the waters and islands oppose the work.

China claims almost all of the strategically vital sea, including waters approaching the coasts of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

These tensions divide ASEAN. Some countries are wary about the possible repercussions of defying Beijing by taking a stronger stand.

Then, in a surprise move late Sunday, they indirectly criticized Beijing's land reclamation and military fortifications in the disputed waters.

They also mentioned in their statement a vague reference to an global arbitration ruling past year that invalidated China's historical claims to virtually all of the strategic waterway.

Wang said he would not try to anticipate what the code will comprise, but said whatever is signed must be adhered to.

Kono said at a press conference Monday that Japan supported the USA in its activities in the South China Sea to ensure freedom of navigation and in a veiled reference to China, opposed "any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force".

Vessels and aircraft, including two Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy frigates and aircraft from two Japan Maritime Self-Defense ships, had combed roughly 10,000 square miles (30,000 square kilometers) of the sea west of the Philippines by Friday.

However, the minister said, some outside countries preferred to stay in the past, turned a blind eye to the positive change of the situation, not willing to recognized the achievement by the joint efforts by China and ASEAN, and even released negative information. He was reported missing on August 1.

The BBC reported last month that Vietnam had ordered Repsol SA, a Madrid-based oil-and-gas company, to halt activities in the South China Sea after China threatened to attack Vietnamese bases in the Spratly Islands. China sent ships to intercept the destroyer.

China has in recent years also successfully lobbied other Asean nations, particularly Cambodia, to support its diplomatic manoeuvring in the dispute.

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