China tensions top ASEAN summit talks in Myanmar
AP and AFP
May 12, 2014, 12:03 am TWN
NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar -- Vietnam and the Philippines pushed for stronger action to confront China's aggressive behavior in the South China Sea at a Southeast Asian summit Sunday that was hosted for the first time by Myanmar, a former pariah state now eager to show off its fragile democratic reforms.
A showdown between Chinese and Vietnamese ships near the Paracel Islands has put a spotlight on long-standing and bitter maritime disputes. The stakes are high, with Beijing claiming sovereignty over much of the strategically important waters — among the world's busiest transport lanes and believed to contain significant oil and gas reserves.
Several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reject China's claims, saying parts of the sea are theirs. But few are willing to risk their economic and political ties with the regional powerhouse.
A statement released by Southeast Asian leaders at the close of Sunday's meeting expressed concern and called for restraint by all parties involved in the maritime disputes, but made no direct mention of China.
Vietnam and the Philippines made it clear from the start that they wanted more.
"China has brazenly moved its deep-water drilling rig escorted by over 80 armed and military vessels and many airplanes to the Vietnamese waters," Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung was quoted as saying. The vessels "fired high-powered water cannons and rammed straight into the Vietnamese public-service and civil ships, causing damage to many ships and injuring many people on board."
The standoff between China and Vietnam started May 1, when China moved a deep sea oil rig into waters close to the Paracel Islands in what most analysts believe was an especially assertive move to help cement its claims of sovereignty over the area. Vietnam, which says the islands belong to it, immediately dispatched ships.
China insists it is doing nothing wrong and said Thursday that it had "maintained a lot of restraint" in the face of "intensive provocations" by Vietnam that were endangering its personnel and property.
Vietnam says the security and free navigation of the strategic waterway are now under serious threat.