Fresh Charges Roil Two South China Sea Disputes

Posted June 7th, 2011 at 2:10 am (UTC-5)
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Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario says China has “aggressively violated” a 2002 agreement with its Southeast Asian neighbors by recently unloading building materials on a set of reefs near his country.

Del Rosario said in a commentary published Tuesday that China's action is the most serious challenge to Philippine sovereignty in the South China Sea since 1995, when Beijing seized an area claimed by Manila known as Mischief Reef.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media are accusing Vietnam of increased assertiveness in a separate South China Sea dispute, charging that Hanoi has been emboldened by support from the United States.

The German news agency said Monday that Vietnam has sent a survey ship back into disputed waters off its coast where Chinese warships cut an exploration cable trailing from the same ship last month.

Rosario made his comments in an article in the Philippine Star newspaper. He called for territorial disputes in the South China Sea to be settled according to a code of conduct agreed between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2002.

Rosario said the declaration calls for members to refrain from provocative actions such as establishing permanent structures on uninhabited reefs and shoals. The Philippines complained last week that Chinese ships had offloaded building materials and erected marker posts on vacant shoals within Manila's exclusive economic zone west of Palawan island.

The reefs lie close to the potentially oil- and gas-rich Spratly Islands, which are claimed in whole or part by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The same dispute lies behind China's attack on the Vietnamese survey boat, which prompted a rare public protest outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi on Sunday.

Wen Wei Po, a Chinese government-owned newspaper in Hong Kong, said Vietnam has been emboldened to act “more rampantly” by U.S. “pampering.” It quoted military expert Peng Quangqian saying Hanoi must not continue to provoke China, and warning that Washington will abandon Vietnam if its interests are hurt.

The newspaper also said Vietnam should be reminded of the phrase, “A disobedient child should be smacked on the bottom.”