U.S. warns China its actions in sea disputes are straining relations

admin   •   May 16, 2014   •   1887

Chief of the general staff of China's People's Liberation Army Fang Fenghui speaks during a press briefing with U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey (not pictured) at the Bayi Building in Beijing April 22, 2013. CREDIT: REUTERS/ANDY WONG/POOL

Chief of the general staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army Fang Fenghui speaks during a press briefing with U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey (not pictured) at the Bayi Building in Beijing April 22, 2013.
CREDIT: REUTERS / ANDY WONG/ POOL

(Reuters) – China’s “provocative” actions in maritime disputes with its neighbors are straining ties with the United States, raising questions over how the world’s two biggest economies can work together, a senior U.S. official said.

The strong comments from Washington on Thursday come after deadly anti-China riots broke out in Vietnam in response to China towing an oil rig into a part of the South China Sea claimed by both Hanoi and Beijing.

“This is raising some fundamental questions for us about China’s long-term strategic intentions,” the U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said Beijing’s move appeared to fit a “pattern” of advancing territorial claims through coercion and intimidation.

“China’s activities are straining the U.S.-China relationship because it raises questions about our ability to partner together in Asia or even bilaterally.”

The Vietnamese government says one person was killed in the anti-China violence on Tuesday and Wednesday, but a doctor at a hospital near one area of rioting said he had seen 21 dead bodies and that at least 100 people were wounded.

An eyewitness to fighting between Chinese and Vietnamese workers in an industrial zone in the same area said she had seen at least 13 bodies.

There were no immediate reports on Friday of further violence.

Washington is in close contact with the Vietnamese government on “how most effectively to manage” Hanoi’s standoff with Beijing, the U.S. official told Reuters,

The Philippines, one of Washington’s closest allies in Asia, has said China is reclaiming land on a reef in the oil- and gas-rich South China Sea that both countries claim and is building what appears to be an airstrip on it. It has offered the United States the use of an underdeveloped naval base on a nearby island to ensure U.S. warships can enter the vicinity.

Vice President Joe Biden and other top U.S. officials told visiting General Fang Fenghui, chief of general staff in China’s army, that Beijing’s behavior in the maritime disputes was “dangerous and provocative” and must stop, the official said.

The renewed tensions in the South China Sea underscore one of the biggest challenges in Asia facing President Barack Obama, who is under pressure by America’s allies to accelerate a “pivot” of military assets to the region to counter China’s rising influence.

In Washington on Thursday, Fang defended the deployment of the oil rig in the disputed South China Sea and blamed Hanoi, saying China cannot afford to “lose an inch” of territory.

The general also pointed the finger at Obama’s strategic shift toward Asia, saying it had encouraged countries such as Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines to make trouble with Beijing. Vietnam and China are now grappling with one of the worst breakdowns in relations since the neighbors fought a brief border war in 1979.

The crisis has erupted after a week-long visit to Asia by President Barack Obama in late April in which he pledged that Washington would live up to its obligation to defend its allies in the region.

WRONG LESSONS

The U.S. official dismissed Fang’s accusation as “a fundamental miss-reading” of U.S. strategy and said China’s assertiveness would only encourage Asian countries to seek greater U.S. involvement in regional diplomatic, economic and military affairs. Washington insists its Asia-Pacific re-engagement is not meant to contain China’s rise but that Beijing must conduct itself according to international norms.

“We’re concerned that China has learned the wrong lessons from Russia and Ukraine and has decided that unilateral assertion is the way to advance China’s interests,” the official said.

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula – and perceptions of limited U.S. options to get Moscow to back down – have heightened unease in parts of Asia over whether Beijing will be emboldened to use force to pursue its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.

In Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency said China’s foreign minister condemned Vietnam in an urgent phone call with the Southeast Asian country’s deputy prime minister over the anti-Chinese protests.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh in the call on Thursday night that “Vietnam bears unshirkable responsibility for the violent attacks against Chinese companies and nationals”, the report said.

Authorities in Cambodia, which borders Vietnam, said about 1,000 Chinese had crossed into the country through the frontier since the violence began earlier in the week.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has called on police and state and local authorities to restore order and ensure the safety of people and property in the affected areas.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh confirmed one death in the clashes, and described media reports and accounts on social networking sites of higher casualties as “groundless”.

China’s state news agency Xinhua reported that at least two Chinese nationals had died and more than 100 were hospitalized.

The worst violence appears to have taken place in an industrial zone in the central province of Ha Tinh.

Journalists’ movements are restricted in tightly controlled Vietnam, where the government maintains an iron grip on law and order, and it was not possible to get independent confirmation of the death toll.

The doctor at the Ha Tinh hospital who had seen 21 dead bodies and the witness who saw the fighting in the industrial zone did not want to be identified by name.

A steel plant being built in the province by Formosa Plastics Group, Taiwan’s biggest investor in Vietnam, was set on fire after fighting between Vietnamese and Chinese workers, the company said, prompting a demand for compensation from Taipei.

“We are working with lawyers in Vietnam to assess the procedures in seeking claims for damages caused due to the protests,” said a statement posted on the website of Taiwan’s cabinet, which did not give estimates of the damage or how much compensation would be sought.

(Additional reporting by Nguyen Phuong Linh, Martin Petty and Michael Gold; Writing byRaju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Paul Tait)

US reopens borders to foreign tourists after 20 months

Aileen Cerrudo   •   November 8, 2021

The United States (US) has reopened its land and air borders to fully vaccinated foreign visitors after a 20-month travel restriction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The US will lift its travel ban on 30 countries but will still implement strict regulations for foreign individuals arriving in the country. Passengers will be required be tested within three days before travel and will have to present negative Covid-19 test results. Unvaccinated travelers, meanwhile, will be allowed entry to the US as long as it falls under ‘essential trips’.

US borders were closed after March 2020 to travelers from large parts of the world, including the Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Britain and China, India and Brazil. AAC

Hanoi SEA Games set for mid-May 2022 — POC

Aileen Cerrudo   •   October 19, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) will be held in mid-May 2022, according to Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Bambol Tolentino.

Tolentino confirmed the schedule on Monday (October 18) after officials from 11 member nations convened online. Vietnam will host the upcoming SEAG and has also agreed with the said schedule.

“The Vietnamese organizers will confirm the specific dates soon,” he said.

The Hanoi SEA Games was originally scheduled from November 21 to December 2 in 2021 but was postponed due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Around 40 sports will be played during the 31st SEAG, with a total of 250 events.

The Philippine team will be participating in 39 sports. –AAC

US gov’t welcomes Duterte decision to recall termination of VFA

Robie de Guzman   •   July 30, 2021

The government of the United States on Friday welcomed the Philippines’ decision to retract the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, earlier in the day, announced the development after President Rodrigo Duterte met with visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III.

“We strongly believe that the VFA, and the broader alliance that the VFA enables, strengthens not only the security of our two nations but also the rules-based order that benefits all nations in the Indo-Pacific,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

Duterte and Austin met in Malacañang on Thursday.

Austin is on an official visit to Southeast Asia that includes stops in Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The visit aims to bolster the US’ ties with the said nations.

His visit coincides with the commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations of the US and the Philippines and the 70th Anniversary of the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty this year.

The PH-US visiting forces deal came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines.

The pact also includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops, and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

Duterte last year ordered the abrogation of the VFA, which is anchored in the PH-US 1951 defense treaty.

The termination of the pact, however, was suspended citing the coronavirus pandemic and the relevant developments in the region.

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