China-ASEAN dispute stalls South China Sea projects
Plans for joint development in disputed South China Sea territories have hit a snag over persistent disagreements between China and the ASEAN bloc, a diplomatic source said Monday.
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations remain in dispute over Beijing's claim to the entire sea area, the source said, and China's approach of dealing with individual ASEAN claimants instead of the grouping as a whole.
The plans for joint development by China and the 10-member ASEAN would include marine research and possibly oil and gas exploration, the diplomat said.
"China is biding its time because it wants to deal with us bilaterally," the diplomat said.
"ASEAN wants a collective stand. It views the South China Sea issue as a collective matter."
ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have claims to the Spratly archipelago, along with Taiwan. Vietnam also claims the more northerly Paracels.
The Southeast Asian claimants say that even ASEAN nations with no claims are affected by what happens in the South China Sea, which hosts major shipping lanes, said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.
"We want to meet in October to discuss the implementing guidelines for the planned joint development projects," the diplomat told AFP, referring to a meeting of senior foreign ministry officials.
But he said he did not know if China would agree to the meeting.
ASEAN hopes to ultimately sign an agreement with China for a binding "regional code of conduct" that will govern actions in the South China Sea and replace a non-binding "declaration" by the claimants not to take destabilising actions in the area.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called for free access to the South China Sea, saying Washington objected to any effort to "intimidate" US energy firms in the region.
Agence France Presse - July 21, 2010