Singapore asks China to clarify claims on S.China Sea

SINGAPORE Mon Jun 20, 2011 6:53am EDT

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SINGAPORE Jun 20 (Reuters) - Singapore said on Monday that China should clarify its claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea and urged all parties to act with restraint amid the biggest flare-up in regional tension in years over competing maritime sovereignty claims.

The rare comment from Singapore, a non-claimant to any of the islands, came as one of China's biggest civilian maritime patrol ships, the Haixun 31, docked in the city-state.

"We have repeatedly said that we think it is in China's own interests to clarify its claims in the South China Sea with more precision as the current ambiguity as to their extent has caused serious concerns in the international maritime community," the foreign ministry said.

"This is precisely why this port call in Singapore by the Haixun 31 has provoked such interest," it said in a statement.

"After all scores of vessels from many countries, including naval vessels, call at Singapore every day without arousing the slightest excitement."

China and Vietnam have hurled accusations at each other for weeks over what each sees as intrusions into its territorial waters by the other in a swath of ocean crossed by key shipping lanes and thought to hold large deposits of oil and gas.

The past three weekends have seen small numbers of protesters stage rare anti-China demonstrations in Hanoi.

Beijing said the Haixun 31 left south China on Wednesday. It was to come to Singapore after passing near the Paracel and Spratly island groups at the heart of disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations.

The Haixun 31 would monitor shipping, carry out surveying, inspect oil wells and "protect maritime security", the official Beijing Daily said -- steps that could lead to confrontation with other countries pressing claims in the sea.

It also said it would carry out inspections of foreign vessels anchored or operating in waters claimed by China.

China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territory in the South China Sea .

China's claim is by far the largest, forming a vast U-shape over most of the sea's 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.

"It is our hope that parties to the disputes in the South China Sea will act with restraint to create conditions conducive to the peaceful settlement of these disputes and the continuation of peace, stability and growth," the Singapore statement said. (Reporting by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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