South China Sea dispute begins to boil
The ongoing dispute over territorial rights in the South China Sea and the oil wealth that lies beneath the waves is getting hotter by the day.
The dispute involves China and Asean member states, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam, plus Taiwan.
The South China Sea is one of the world’s most heavily traveled maritime commercial routes.
The Spratly islands consist of more than 750 islands, islets, atolls and cays and claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. While there are no native islanders, about 45 islands of the archipelago are now occupied by Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Filipino forces, all determined to assert their nations’ claims of sovereignty. Given the potential resources, the possibility of confrontation is significant and is already occurring.
Philippines President Benigno Aquino 3rd said that Manila had documented up to seven incidents involving the two sides in less than four months, including one in which a Chinese vessel allegedly opened fire on Filipino fishermen.
He said that details would be presented to China and the United Nations (UN).
Manila said that the incidents happened in an area of the South China Sea just outside the Spratlys, a reputedly oil-rich island chain claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Vietnam has demanded that China immediately cease actions violating Vietnamese sovereignty and hindering Vietnamese fishing boats operating in the waters of the Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago.
The statement was made in a diplomatic note sent to the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi by a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry representative on June 2 in protest against Chinese marine forces using weapons to threaten Vietnamese fishermen conducting normal, legal activities.
Speaking in Singapore on Saturday, outgoing US Defense Secretary Robert Gates vowed the US military would maintain a "robust" presence across Asia backed up with new high-tech weaponry to protect allies and safeguard shipping lanes.
The US military will expand its presence in Southeast Asia, sharing facilities with Australia in the Indian Ocean and deploying new littoral combat ships (LCS) to Singapore, where it has access to naval facilities, he said.
Without naming China, Gates said the new hardware was a response to "the prospect that new and disruptive technologies and weapons could be employed to deny US forces access to key sea routes and lines of communications."
Gates held talks with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie on Friday, said efforts to promote a security dialogue with China had borne fruit and that military relations had "steadily improved in recent months."
China and the other countries need to work this dispute out around a table. However, the Asean countries have proposed multilateral talks while China wants to engage each country one on one.
This is the key point that must be overcome for steps to be taken to resolve the dispute.