Wed, 24 Jul 1996

China calls for cooperation over disputed areas

JAKARTA (JP): China called yesterday for a joint effort in developing the South China Sea territories that Beijing is disputing with its neighbors.

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Qian Qichen told the ASEAN Regional Forum that China has conducted consultations with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia that have produced "constructive results".

China always stands for settling disputes concerning sovereignty and maritime rights and interests through peaceful negotiations with relevant countries, Qian said.

"China stands for shelving the disputes while going in for joint development pending a solution," he told the conference.

Beijing, Qian said, ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in May and at the same time announced the baselines of some of its territorial waters to "create a better condition for negotiations and consultations" with its neighbors.

Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas said last week that Jakarta had sent China an "aide memoire", asking Beijing to explain its new baselines.

The new baselines, or sea boundaries, added 2.5 million square kilometers to China's territory.

At the center of the dispute is the Spratly Islands, claimed in whole or part by China and Taiwan as well as ASEAN member countries: Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The sprawling islands and reefs of the Spratlys are believed to be rich in oil. China and Vietnam also claim the Paracel Islands in the same general area, where the two were once engaged in armed clashes.

China defended its unilateral decision to declare the Paracel Islands as within its territorial limits.

The decision was in accordance with international law and Chinese domestic law, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Shen Guofang told journalists.

Shen said China has both continental land and islands, making the drawing of its borders "very complicated".

"While there are differences of views between Chinese experts and experts from outside, we hope that we can solve the differences through consultations," he said.

ASEAN and other world leaders have warned that the South China Sea issue is potentially explosive and must be properly managed.

Qian said China attaches importance to security in the Asia- Pacific and is committed to stepping up dialog with other countries.

"A stronger Chinese economy poses no threat to any country," he said. "On the contrary, if China, a country of 1.2 billion people, should be bogged down in poverty and chaos that would have an adverse effect on regional stability."

What China has been doing to promote peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific rim, he said, is promoting mutual trust and understanding with countries in the region.

According to Qian, China has conducted extensive political talks and military exchanges with many ASEAN Regional Forum members.

The forum consists of the seven ASEAN members and their dialog partners: the U.S., Australia, Canada, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, European Union, China and Russia, plus observer countries, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea.

Qian also referred to proposals made by China at last year's ASEAN Regional Forum meeting calling for joint military exercises as well as reducing and eventually ending military reconnaissance targeted at a "certain forum member".

"These proposals have a practical significance for confidence building in the region," he said. (pan)