YANGON: A US official has proposed that China and Southeast Asian nations call a moratorium on actions seen as provocative in a bid to cool tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Danny Russel, the top US diplomat in East Asia, said he made the suggestion as “food for thought,” not as a formal proposal as he met regional counterparts in Myanmar to prepare for a regional summit later this year.
“The claimant states themselves could identify the kind of behavior that they each find provocative when others do it, and offer to put a voluntary freeze on those sorts of actions on the condition that all the other claimants would agree to do so similarly,” Russel, an assistant secretary of state, told reporters in a conference call.
“So for example, would they be willing to make a pledge as simple as not to occupy any of the land features in the South China Sea that are currently unoccupied?”
The United States has pushed for years for a code of conduct to lay out rules to prevent the escalation of incidents in the South China Sea, an economically vital waterway in which China has overlapping claims with several other nations.
But Russel acknowledged that tensions have been “going up quickly” in the sea.
Riots erupted in Vietnam last month in anger against China’s deployment of an oil rig in contested waters.
The Philippines, a US ally, has also seen increasingly tense tussles with China over control of islets and reefs in the sea.
Russel said the Chinese delegation at the talks in Myanmar offered a “spirited and vigorous defense” of its position, but voiced hope that Beijing understood that other nations’ statements were “offered not in the spirit of condemnation, but in the spirit of compromise.”
President Barack Obama is expected to travel to Myanmar in November for the East Asia Summit.
Secretary of State John Kerry is likely to visit Myanmar in August in preparatory meetings for the meetings, which also include a summit of the Asean bloc of Southeast Asian nations.
Meanwhile, Australia backed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to expand the use of Japan’s military, hailing it as a “more normal defense posture,” a day after Tokyo and Canberra stepped up ties.
Shinzo Abe is pushing to reinterpret Japan’s strict pacifist Constitution to allow its well-equipped armed forces to fight in defense of an ally, something currently barred.
But he faces opposition at home from those attached to the decades-old constitutional ideal, as well as criticism from China, which accuses him of seeking to remilitarize Japan.
“Australia can see great benefits to our country and to our region, should Japan continue to play a greater constructive role in global and regional peace and security,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in Tokyo.
“We certainly support Japan working toward a more normal defense posture to help it play a greater global and regional role,” she told a news conference.
Defense Minister David Johnston said on Thursday that security and defense cooperation is “very, very important to Australia. In fact it is the central pillar of our bilateral relationship.”
But he brushed off suggestions that Australia, Japan and the United States are looking to control the Asia Pacific region, saying humanitarian and disaster relief operations were the ultimate aim of collaborations.