Experts urge Beijing to clarify South China Sea claims

Reuters

Posted at Jul 06 2011 11:34 PM | Updated as of Jul 07 2011 06:36 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Maritime security experts on Wednesday urged China to clarify its claims in the disputed territories in the South China Sea, on the last day of an international conference in Manila.

They also called on the other claimant countries in Southeast Asia to show restraint in the resolution process, in order to preserve peace and cooperation in the region.

The 2-day Manila Conference on the South China Sea brought together scholars, maritime security experts, and various other officials to discuss the regional implications and prospects for peace in the contentious area of the Spratly Islands, known as Nansha Islands by the Chinese.

The area covers the world's second-busiest sea lanes, rich fishing grounds, and sit on oil and natural gas deposits.

They are claimed entirely by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam and in part by Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

China's claimed territory lies within a U-shaped, 9-dotted line in the South China Sea.

Li Mingjiang, assistant professor at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the claim was ambiguous.

"If China could clarify its claim, explain the 9-dotted line, it would be beneficial for China and other claimant states and other user states of the South China Sea. Because right now, a lot of the tensions, a lot of the conflicts and misperceptions come from this ambiguity of the U-shaped line, the 9-dotted line," he said.

China wants bilateral negotiations and no involvement of outside parties, particularly the United States, whose comments on the issue have drawn sharp responses from Beijing.

Li said China should not be pressured or threatened to clarify its position, and suggested peaceful and informal negotiations instead.

"Pressure as I said is not really a good approach, particularly in the current context where China feels it's much stronger. Pressure, in my view, would only backlash. So persuasion, negotiations, private talks, communications would be better. You need to explain to China, things have changed, regional context has changed," he said.

Participants in the meeting said each country's nationalistic pride was also making the issues harder to resolve.

China had said it has historical sovereignty over the region, which it said supersedes claims of other countries under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Philippines' foreign affairs secretary will go on a two-day official visit to Beijing on Thursday, in which the South China Sea dispute will be high on the agenda.