China's Xi urges improved SE Asia ties in Indonesia speech
By Angela Dewan, AFPJAKARTA -- China's Xi Jinping said Thursday Beijing's territorial disputes with Southeast Asia should be resolved in a “peaceful manner” as he tried to mend frayed ties on his first presidential trip to the region.
October 4, 2013, 12:17 am TWN
In the first ever speech by a foreign leader to the Indonesian parliament, Xi addressed the maritime disputes which critics say have been rekindled by Beijing's increasingly assertive claims to almost the entire South China Sea
Xi, who became president in March, told lawmakers that China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should settle territorial and maritime disputes “in a peaceful manner so as to safeguard regional stability and peace.”
“Southeast Asia is one important hub of the maritime Silk Road. China is ready to increase maritime cooperation with ASEAN,” he said.
“China attaches great importance to Indonesia's role in ASEAN and is ready to work together with Indonesia and other ASEAN countries to make the two sides share the same prosperity.”
China has overlapping territorial claims to parts of the sea with several other countries, and tensions have run particularly high with Vietnam and the Philippines.
Analysts said Xi's speech had a conciliatory tone aimed at repairing relations but offered little new of substance.
Li Mingjiang, China programme director at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said Xi's tone was one of openness, reinforcing a more accommodating and relaxed attitude to the disputes.
“This shift is already taking place — we haven't seen any aggressive patrolling in the South China Sea since Xi took the leadership,” Li said.
But Bantarto Bandoro, a professor at the Indonesian Defence University, told AFP he saw nothing new in Xi's comments.
“China will certainly not sacrifice its principles of sovereignty,” he said.
There was no sign of Beijing bending to ASEAN's long-held demand that China accept a legally binding code of conduct for handling disputes in the South China Sea.
Analysts, however, agreed that Xi's visit to Southeast Asia — just after US President Barack Obama cancelled parts of his visit to the region — was a blow to the much-vaunted U.S. “pivot” toward Asia.