China's foreign minister slams 'megaphone diplomacy' on South China Sea

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi waves as he arrives to attend an Asean-China ministerial meeting at the Myanmar International Convention Centre (MICC) in Naypyitaw, on Aug 9, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi waves as he arrives to attend an Asean-China ministerial meeting at the Myanmar International Convention Centre (MICC) in Naypyitaw, on Aug 9, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

CHINA'S foreign minister today slammed the Philippines' proposed three-stage resolution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, saying Manila had already jumped to the third stage by seeking international arbitration.

"If the Philippines wants to carry it out it should revoke international arbitration because that is the third step. What it has done is jump to the third step," Mr Wang Yi told journalists on the sidelines of a meeting in Myanmar's capital of Asean foreign ministers and their dialogue partners.

Manila's "triple action plan" proposes that Asean must immediately call for cessation of activities that escalate tension in the area claimed almost entirely by China but also in part by four Asean states, most crucially by Vietnam and the Philippines.

The second, medium-term step would be to work on the "full and effective implementation" of a 2002 Declaration of Conduct of the parties.

In the press briefing, Mr Wang spoke at length on the issue of the disputed sea, maintaining that "someone has been exaggerating or even playing up so-called tension".

The reference may have been to claimant states, or to the United States which has identified the South China Sea as a "national interest". US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Naypyitaw and is expected to call for voluntary restraint - amounting to a moratorium on activities in the disputed maritime area.

In May, when Beijing placed a state-owned oil rig in waters claimed by Hanoi, Vietnamese and Chinese vessels skirmished in the area, leaving Vietnamese boats damaged. Anti-Chinese riots erupted in some parts of Vietnam that prompted a stern reprimand from China, which has since withdrawn the rig.

The Philippines has protested China's construction activities on islands and reefs in parts of the sea claimed by Manila, and in May filed a case in The Hague for arbitration of the dispute.

Late on Friday in Naypyitaw, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters: "I asked everyone to see that the situation was getting to a point where it would no doubt begin to affect the peace, security and stability of the region."

He said he had urged Asean to call for "a cessation of all activities that escalate tension" in accordance with an existing Asean and Chinese framework to deal with disputes in the contested waters - the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of parties claiming the South China Sea, known as the DOC.

Mr Wang told reporters the "position of China to safeguard its maritime rights and sovereignty is firm and unshakeable".

But he added that "as a responsible big country" China was committed to restraint.

He emphasised however that the DOC was adequate and needed to be fully implemented, while work on a more specific Code of Conduct (COC) - long delayed - should be speeded up.

Acting quickly on the COC has been agreed on Friday by Asean foreign ministers in Naypyitaw.

Slamming what he called "megaphone diplomacy", Mr Wang insisted that "currently the situation in the South China Sea is stable on the whole, there has been no problem with freedom of navigation".

nirmal@sph.com.sg

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