New Discord Over South China Sea In Advance Of APEC

Chinese island construction project in the Spratly Islands (file photo)

By MarEx 2015-11-11 18:35:16

China's President Xi Jinping announced plans to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) talks in Manila on November 18-19, continuing a long series of diplomatic tours that has recently included the United States, Vietnam and Singapore.

His announcement comes during increased tensions over China's expansion into the South China Sea. Despite earlier proclamations of a rhetorical ceasefire on South China Sea issues for APEC, accusations have still been flying in advance of the summit.

China hopes that Xi won’t face questions about the issue at APEC and has been downplaying the prospect of discussions. Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong, speaking at a press conference on Xi's attendance, said that “as far as I know, at this year’s summit, there are no plans to discuss the South China Sea . . . Everyone knows that APEC is primarily about discussing trade and financial cooperation in the Asia Pacific.”

However, on November 11, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the accusation that the Philippines' case against China at an arbitration tribunal over rival claims in the South China Sea had strained relations and that it was up to the government in Manila to heal the rift. His comments were rebutted by the Filipino government. The timing could increase tension in advance of APEC.

The arbitration case against China in the Hague "is a knot that has impeded the improvement and development of Sino-Philippine relations", a statement on the Foreign Ministry's website cited Wang as saying in Manila.

"We do not want this knot to become tighter and tighter, so that it even becomes a dead knot," Wang told reporters in Manila. "As for how to loosen or open the knot, (we'll) have to look at the Philippines."

"The person who caused the problem should solve it," Wang said. "We hope that the Philippines can make a more sensible choice."

Separately, Indonesia has announced plans to follow the Philippine's lead and appeal for a legal determination by international arbitrators. Chinese claims in the South China Sea include parts of the Indonesian-held Natuna islands, and Indonesia's security chief Luhut Panjaitan  said on Wednesday that Jakarta could take China to the "International Criminal Court" if Beijing's claim was not resolved through dialogue.

“We don't want to see any power projection in this area. We would like a peaceful solution by promoting dialogue,” he said.

Although he specified the International Criminal Court, which deals with war crimes, it would appear he meant an international tribunal such as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.