ASEAN - China to start talks South China Sea – Myanmar close tie to china

THE ASSOCIATION of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China will start talks as early as January preparatory to drafting a binding document governing activities in the South China Sea, an official said yesterday.

"A meeting between ASEAN and China will be held by January to identify the main elements in crafting the Code of Conduct (COC)," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda F. Basilio said in a hearing of the Senate foreign relations committee.

"The meeting is scheduled by the first week or second week of January," she added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario earlier said that ASEAN members have agreed to draft a more binding document to guide activities in the contested area that will be presented to senior ministers in July 2012.

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have conflicting claims over the resource-rich Spratly Group of Islands.

The COC will serve as the implementing guideline of a declaration forged between ASEAN and China in 2002 on activities in the area, renamed by the government as West Philippine Sea.

Ms. Basilio said the Philippines will continue to call for a multilateral approach to settle the disputes, a move introduced at the recent ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Bali, Indonesia but was referred for further study.

"Despite China wanting bilateral approach, ASEAN claimant states want to push through with the multilateral approach," she said.

China has rejected multilateral negotiations on the issue, preferring instead to talk individually with tiny claimants.

The situation has prompted the United State to reinforce its presence in Asia-Pacific through a series of meetings with treaty partners, including the Philippines, prior to attending the Bali forum.

ASEAN members Myanmar and Cambodia, however, have expressed disagreement with the multilateral approach reportedly due to the influence of China.

The Senate committee on foreign relations was also briefed on other issues raised in the ASEAN Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Honolulu, Hawaii, both held this month.

China, Burma Strengthen Military Cooperation

China's vice president says his country and Burma should strengthen their military ties.  Vice President Xi Jinping hailed China's friendship with Burma in a meeting in Beijing Monday with Burmese armed forces commander Min Aung Hlaing. The meeting comes days before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to make an historic trip to Burma.

China's official Xinhua news agency quotes Vice President Xi Jinping as proposing that the militaries of the two nations "enhance, exchange and deepen cooperation." Xinhua also quotes the Chinese leader as saying the friendship that was forged by leaders of older generations has endured changes in the international arena."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was asked whether the China-Burma meeting was in any way related to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's historic trip to Burma later this week.

Hong says China and Burma maintain exchange and cooperation in various fields, but would not say more about the meeting than what was in the official statement.

Ren Yue is a Chinese foreign policy researcher and visiting professor at Hong Kong University. "I think that China is definitely having a very close watch about the recent moves, that Secretary of State Clinton visited Burma, or Myanmar. That definitely is something the Chinese government is watching closely and with concern," he said.

Ren says China has had problems with other southeast Asian nations - especially over territorial disputes in the South China Sea - but has seen Burma as one of its staunchest friends in the region. He adds that both Burma and China have been criticized for their closed political systems, but now Burma is starting to reform.

"The Chinese government also wants to start political reform, but it is not fast enough. I think that Clinton's visit could force Chinese leaders to think about something along those lines, democratization, political reform, in Chinese words," Ren stated.

Since last year, Burma has held elections and freed democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. Burma also recently risked angering China by shutting down a large and unpopular hydroelectric dam project.

Secretary Clinton's trip to Burma follows President Barack Obama's tour of Asian nations.  Researchers have said these trips are aimed at reinforcing U.S. influence in the region amid growing concerns about the rise of China.

Ren says he thinks, at this point, China is watching closely, but does not yet feel threatened.

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