| WASHINGTON, July 11
WASHINGTON, July 11 The United States said on
Friday it wants Beijing and rival countries to clamp a voluntary
freeze on actions aggravating territorial disputes in the South
Michael Fuchs, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for
Strategy and Multilateral Affairs, said no country was solely
responsible for escalating tensions in the region. But he
reiterated the U.S. view that "provocative and unilateral"
behavior by China had raised questions about its willingness to
abide by international law.
Washington wants the 10-nation Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China to have "a real and substantive
discussion" to flesh out a call for self-restraint contained in
a Declaration of Conduct they agreed to in 2002, with a view
toward signing a formal maritime Code of Conduct, Fuchs said.
"We've called for claimant states to clarify and agree to
voluntarily freeze certain actions and activities that escalate
disputes and cause instability as described in the DOC," Fuchs
told a Washington think tank, giving details of a proposal he
said had been put to both China and ASEAN states, but which has
received little public attention.
A U.S. official said the issue was raised again this week
with China at the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a
bilateral forum that seeks to manage an increasingly complex and
at times testy relationship. The official declined to give
details of China's response.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is
believed to contain oil and gas deposits and has rich fishery
resources. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan
also lay claim to parts of the sea, where about $5 trillion of
ship-borne trade passes every year.
Recent weeks have seen flareups in the disputes, including
anti-Chinese violence in Vietnam after China's state oil company
CNOOC deployed an oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi.
Fuchs said deciding what elements were included in a freeze
would ultimately be up to the claimants, but these could include
recommitting not to establish new outposts or seize territory
another claimant had occupied before the 2002 declaration.
Claimants could also clarify what types of actions were
provocative and what were merely efforts to maintain a
long-existing presence dating back to before 2002, Fuchs added.
"For example, alterations that fundamentally change the
nature, size or capabilities of the presence could fall under
the freeze, whereas routine maintenance operations would be
permissible," he said.
Fuchs said claimants could also agree to refrain from
unilateral enforcement measures against long-standing economic
activities by other claimants in disputed areas.
"All of these measures ... would more clearly define the
type of activities already suggested by the DOC, to which the
parties have already committed," Fuchs said.
"The agreement would not affect any party until all
claimants had agreed to abide by its terms," he said. "Moreover,
if adopted the freeze would not be prejudicial to the resolution
of competing claims."
Fuchs said the freeze would create an environment for
negotiations on a China-ASEAN Code of Conduct "that would
dramatically lower the risk of a dangerous incident."
"We make this suggestion as an idea to spark serious
discussions about ways to reduce tensions and address these
disputes. The claimants themselves should get together to
address the parameters of a freeze."
The Philippines, one of the ASEAN states with competing
claims with China, called in June for all claimant states in the
region to halt construction activities that may raise tensions.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Tom Brown)