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2010 South China Sea Developments

Tensions flared in January 2010 after China announced plans to develop high-end tourism on several of the Paracel Islands, under a new plan to draw tourists to Hainan island. In 2009 China detained 25 Vietnamese fishermen found near the Paracels, who were only released after weeks of public demonstrations in Vietnam. On 20 January 1974, China forcefully seized the Paracel Islands from Vietnam. In an 11 January 2010 interview with Vietnamnet, Chinese Ambassador Sun Quoqiang, said "It is a big challenge for us to solve this dispute. If conditions are right and the two sides can solve the matter, our relationship will surely grow. If conditions are not right, we should put it aside.... There are three matters left by history in the China-Vietnam relations: Delimiting the land boundary, fixing the boundary in the Tonkin Gulf and the sea boundary. The two countries have tried to solve the first two issues. We currently have only to deal with the sea boundary."

Developments in the South China Sea issue in 2010 saw the United States moving away from its previous low-profile approach. In March 2010 Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Cui Tiankai told visiting Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and the US National Security Council's Jeffrey Bader that China viewed the South China Sea as part of China's "core interests", on a par with Taiwan and Tibet. Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said at a press conference on Friday 30 July 2010 that China had "indisputable sovereignty" over islands in the South China Sea and the surrounding waters. He said that China would respect the liberty of ships and aircraft from "relevant countries" traversing the South China Sea in accordance with international laws. Geng said that China would push for the resolution of differences regarding the South China Sea with "relevant countries" through dialogue and negotiations and objected to having the issue internationalized. We are the against the internationalization of the South China Sea issue," Geng said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at the National Convention Center, Hanoi, Vietnam, on Friday July 23, 2010, stated that: "The United States, like every nation, has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea. We share these interests not only with ASEAN members or ASEAN Regional Forum participants, but with other maritime nations and the broader international community.

"The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion. We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant. While the United States does not take sides on the competing territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, we believe claimants should pursue their territorial claims and the company and rights to maritime space in accordance with the UN convention on the law of the sea. Consistent with customary international law, legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features.

"The U.S. supports the 2002 ASEAN-China declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea. We encourage the parties to reach agreement on a full code of conduct. The U.S. is prepared to facilitate initiatives and confidence building measures consistent with the declaration. Because it is in the interest of all claimants and the broader international community for unimpeded commerce to proceed under lawful conditions."

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Sunday 25 July 2010 warned some countries not to "internationalize" the territorial dispute over the South China Sea that Beijing faces with its neighbors. "What will be the consequences if this issue is turned into an international or multilateral one? It will only make matters worse and the resolution more difficult.... International practices show that the best way to resolve such disputes is for countries concerned to have direct bilateral negotiations." The South China Sea is currently a peaceful area with navigational freedom, he said. "Trade has been growing rapidly in this region and China has become the number one trading partner of many countries in the region," Yang said. "In my bilateral discussions with both ASEAN colleagues and others, they all say that there is no threat to regional peace and stability."

Yang said the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and ASEAN member countries in 2002 has played a good role in containing regional conflicts and will see high-level meetings when conditions are mature. In the declaration, the countries pledged to "exercise restraint, and not to make it an international issue or multilateral issue." Yang admitted that "there are territorial and maritime rights disputes" between China and some neighbors. But he emphasized that "those disputes shouldn't be viewed as ones between China and ASEAN as a whole just because the countries involved are ASEAN members."



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