Nov 10, 2012

China - No room to back off, China says on disputed islands

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Amid escalating tension with neighbouring countries over border disputes, the Chinese government reaffirmed yesterday its commitment for a peaceful settlement, but insisted that it would not be making territorial concessions.

"On issues related to China's sovereignty, there is no room for China to back off," said Luo Zhaozui, the director general for Asia at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview with journalists from South and Southeast Asia.

Luo said foreign media reports accused China of being "excessively assertive" on territorial disputes because of its rapid economic growth. He disputed this notion, saying that China was merely responding to provocations.

At the southern part of the country, China is in dispute with Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam over maritime borders in the South China Sea, which is estimated to have oil and natural gas reserves amounting to 17.7 billion tonnes, making it the world's fourth-largest reserve bed.

Looking north, Sino-Japanese relations have deteriorated after Japan on September 10 announced it had purchased a group uninhabited islands in East China Sea called Senkaku — the Diaoyu in Chinese — from a private owner. China condemned what it claimed was an attack on sovereignty, but so far has exercised restraint in deploying its military.

Luo highlighted that in the north, Japan was not only in territorial dispute with China, but also with Russia and South Korea. He blamed the situation on "rising right wing powers" in Japan, among other things.

"The Chinese general public has been asking whether the government has been too weak and easy too bully," Luo said.

At the opening of the 18th National Congress of Communist Party of China on Thursday, President Hu Jintao said the country must resolutely safeguard its maritime rights and interests and build China into a maritime power.

Hu added that China should implement a military strategy of active defence for the new period, expand and intensify military preparedness and enhance its capacity to accomplish a wide range of military tasks.

According to a report from Xinhua news agency yesterday, a high-level maritime interests protection office has been established recently with heads of the relevant ministries and administrations on board.

Despite strong domestic pressure to act tougher on disputing territorial claims, Luo said that China was ready to engage in creating a consensus through friendly consultations.

Specifically, on the dispute with the member nations of Asean, Luo said that China would abide by the Declaration on the Conduct (DoC) of Parties in the South China Sea signed in 2002 that demands that all territorial disputes be settled bilaterally.

In July last year, signatories reached an agreement on guidelines to implement the DoC, but recently China has been stonewalling attempts to start talks on the issue.

"The problem now is that there are changes in the political will in some parties. In particular, some countries are trying to make things multilateral and international, and this is counter to the spirit of the DoC," Luo said.

Andi Haswidi

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