US urges peaceful territorial solution by ELENA L. ABEN

27/6/110 nhận xét

The US says tensions in the South China Sea
could undermine regional peace
and stability [Reuters]
[MB] MANILA, Philippines — United States senators have introduced a resolution before the US Senate calling for a peaceful, multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in Southeast Asia – a move that drew commendation from visiting Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

Virginia Senator Jim Webb said the bill which he introduced together with Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe has a good chance of clearing the US Senate within the week.

Webb said its passage will send a good signal on the US Senate’s position on the territorial conflict in the region.

The resolution calls for “a peaceful and multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in Southeast Asia.”

Webb sits as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Inhofe is a member.

Del Rosario met with Webb in Washington, DC, last week, a few days after the resolution was filed.

During the meeting, the senator related to the foreign affairs chief his long-time interest in the issue of sovereignty in the South China Sea.

He called the attention of Del Rosario to the substantial work his subcommittee has accomplished, which impacts on US foreign policy on the situation in the South China Sea.

He said he believes that it is now time to back policy with action. Webb, an author and highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, has visited the Philippines twice – the first occasion when he was still a journalist and later as Secretary of the Navy.

A ranking US military official visiting the Philippines said claimant nations on the Spratlys must respect international and military boundaries, expressing hope that the tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) would not escalate to hostilities.

Gen. Gary L. North, commander of the US Pacific Air Forces (US-PACAF), said the US is closely monitoring the situation in that part of the region.

North was in the country upon invitation of Lt. Gen. Oscar Rabena, Philippine Air Force (PAF) commanding general. The US-PACAF commander was asked to speak during PAF symposium held last week.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. hosted a dinner for the US-PACAF with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

North cited the need to avoid misreadings and miscalculations of actions and statements by all parties concerned on the Spratlys issue to prevent combat operations from taking place.

When asked if the US is all set to assist the Philippines should there be war on the Spratlys, North retorted by asking: “Do you believe it will escalate to combat operations?”

The US-PACAF commander, however, went on saying the Philippines and the US share a long history of 60 years of common understanding as a result of the Mutual Defense Treaty. “So the relationship is very strong,” he said.

But North also emphasized that as the AFP chief also knows, “all of our senior leaders and senior government and civilian and military leadership … we certainly hope that the conflict that is currently being viewed would never come to an event that might reach combat operations.”

Saying stability and security in the region is very important, North stressed that all nations must be transparent, at the same time, respect of international boundaries and military boundaries in order to prevent hostilities.

“The last thing that any military person wants to do is commit the combat operations,” said North, adding “It is very important that our senior government officials work these issues closely in consultation with many nations,” as he noted that there are many nations that lay claim to the Spratlys.

“The understanding of these claims and the ability of nations to talk to each other is very important,” North further said, adding that all concerned must also “respect each other’s viewpoints and work these viewpoints out.”

“There’s a long process that we all must appreciate to ensure that there is stability in the region... and through dialogue we can prevent hostilities,” he added.

In Honolulu, Hawaii, the US and China were holding first-of-a-kind talks Saturday on rising tensions in the South China Sea, with Beijing angry over Washington’s support of Southeast Asian countries.

Senior officials of the Pacific powers were meeting in Honolulu, days after the US rallied behind the Philippines and Vietnam which have been alarmed at what they see as Beijing’s growing assertiveness at sea.

Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said ahead of the talks that he would make clear to China the “strong principles” of the US in defense of freedom of navigation.

“We want recent tensions to subside and cooler heads to prevail,” Campbell told reporters in Washington on Friday.

Campbell reiterated that the US takes no stance on China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors – a point of contention for some US lawmakers who have been pressing for a more proactive role.

“The United States has no intention to fan the flames in the South China Sea and we have a very strong interest in the maintenance of peace and stability,” Campbell said.

But China’s top official at the Hawaii talks, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, warned that US support of its partners in Southeast Asia “can only make things more complicated.”

“I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the US won’t be burned by this fire,” Cui said, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.

Cui said the US should limit itself to urging “more restraint and responsible behavior from those countries that have been frequently taking provocative actions.”

While the US and China often talks, Saturday’s session is the first to focus specifically on the Asia-Pacific region. The dialogue was set up during the top-level Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington in May.

Campbell said the US would also talk to China about its interactions with North Korea and Myanmar, two of the dynamic region’s most isolated countries which both count on Beijing as their main source of support.

But the talks are expected to focus on the South China Sea, strategic and potentially oil-rich waters where Beijing has sometimes overlapping disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Amid tension in the Spratlys, three US Navy ships and some 800 American servicemen will arrive in Palawan Tuesday to launch the 17th Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training or CARAT Philippines 2011, a bilateral military exercise that is part of the Philippine-US Defence Treaty of 1951.

Aside from taking part in the exercise, the US Navy personnel will also visit the Puerto Pincesa underground river.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday pledged to assist the Philippines in modernizing its navy, whose flagship is an aging vessel used by the US in World War II.

“While we are a small country, we are prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard,” Del Rosario said Thursday with Clinton at his side.

President Barack Obama’s administration has focused on building ties with Southeast Asia, accusing the previous team of George W. Bush of neglecting the fast-growing and often US-friendly region due to preoccupation with wars.

Meanwhile, Sen. Gregorio Honasan Sunday called for a political ceasefire between President Benigno S Aquino III’s faction and his critics to facilitate a national consensus on dealing with the Spratlys issue.

In a radio interview, Honasan said that in the face of the rising regional tension over the increasing intrusion of the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea territories, there is a need for government leaders to set aside political differences to be able to unite and forge a common agreement that would resolve the country’s pressing concern.

“We should have a ceasefire. That’s how we can measure our love for our country. If we’re talking about national survival, we should set that aside,” Honasan said over radio station dzBB referring, to the renewed verbal war from opposition Lakas-Kampi leaders led by former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Malacañang.

“Let us wait for Malacanang’s initiative first and avoid heckling remarks like ‘nobody home’ which is counterproductive,” he said, adding that such cessation of political hostilities is usually initiated by the incumbent with former national leaders serving as mediators.

He also echoed the call of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to convene the National Security Council (NSC).

The Philippines and China – along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam – claim all or part of the South China Sea, and the area has long been considered one of Asia’s potential military flashpoints. (With reports from Roy C. Mabasa, Hanna L. Torregoza, and AFP).
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