ASEAN Experts Meet in Manila on South China Sea

Posted September 22nd, 2011 at 2:35 am (UTC-5)
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Maritime experts from across Southeast Asia are meeting in Manila to discuss a Philippine proposal for avoiding future conflicts in the South China Sea.

The group's findings will be passed to senior officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who will make recommendations ahead of an ASEAN summit in November.

Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay told the experts he is optimistic their work will finally ease tensions in the South China Sea, where China, Taiwan and four ASEAN countries have overlapping claims.

But two Philippine diplomats told the Associated Press that Manila has received objections to the two-day meeting from China, which claims the entire South China Sea as its own.

Both the Philippines and Vietnam have complained of Chinese interference with ships exploring for oil and gas in waters the two countries claim as their exclusive economic zones. Beijing has defended the actions, saying its ships were acting in Chinese waters.

Under the Philippine proposal, the claimant countries would delineate which areas are in dispute and which are not. Exploration could then go ahead in the undisputed areas, while the disputed areas would be turned into an area for joint cooperation.

It is not clear how the ASEAN countries would deal with China's claim, which embraces virtually all the areas under discussion. China also objects to any multilateral approach to the problem, preferring to deal with each country one on one.