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China Inflexible on Sea Disputes Ahead of ASEAN Summit

by VOA News November 16, 2012

China's territorial disputes with its neighbors are expected to top the agenda when regional leaders, including heads of state from U.S., China, Japan, Australia and others meet in Cambodia in the coming days.

Of the 10 ASEAN countries set to meet on Sunday, four are at odds with China over territory in the South China Sea.

A key issue at stake in the upcoming talks is whether ASEAN can agree on a so-called code of conduct aimed at averting clashes over the various overlapping claims.

​​Beijing has lobbied against the code, preferring to address the territorial disputes with each country, one on one. On Friday Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman gave no indication that Chinese authorities had changed their stance.

Du Jifeng, a researcher at the government-backed Institute for Asia Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Studies says that’s not surprising, even with a new leadership group coming into power.

“Although leaders have changed, the point of view has not changed. ASEAN countries hold a very important place in China's diplomatic relations, so there won't be a big change in China's position,” he said.

The United States has urged countries to adopt the code of conduct to avoid hostilities. But Chinese state media have remained skeptical of U.S. intentions in the region, accusing the Obama administration of trying to meddle with Asian affairs.

This week the Global Times published an editorial accusing the United States of having a Cold War mentality.

​​The waters enclosed between China's southeastern coastline and Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan are hotly contested in part because of the rich, and so far untapped, energy resources discovered underneath them. They are also a critical trade route for international shipping.

Professor Du says he believes that despite alarms over the U.S. so-called pivot to the Pacific, it does not mean Washington is planning to interfere in specific territorial claims. “The U.S. has a big security interest in the area, but at the same time its official position is to maintain neutrality in the disputes, and also to solve the matters peacefull,.” he said.

China says Premier Wen Jiabao will represent Beijing at the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh next week.

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