China urged: Listen to your neighbors

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - By listening to its neighbors, China can realize that they are not adversaries but “willing partners” in its quest for regional development and stability, visiting US President Barack Obama said yesterday.

Asked to comment on China’s growing aggressiveness in staking its claims in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, Obama said the emerging super power should show good faith and commitment to resolve its territorial disputes with its neighbors peacefully.

“If China, I think, listens to its neighbors and recognizes that there is another approach to resolve these disputes, what China will find is this – they’ve got ready and willing partners throughout the Asia Pacific region that want to work with them on trade and commerce and selling goods and buying goods,” Obama said in a joint press briefing at Malacañang with President Aquino shortly after his arrival yesterday for a two-day state visit.

The Philippines is the final leg of his four-nation Asian tour.

“And it’s inevitable that China is going to be a dominant power in this region just by pure size. Nobody, I think, denies that,” he said.

“We don’t go around sending ships and threatening folks. What we do is we sit down and we have some people in the room,” he said.

“It’s boring, it’s not exciting but it’s usually a good way to work out these problems and work out these issues,” he pointed out.

“And I think that all the countries that I had spoken to in the region during the course of my trip – Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and now the Philippines – their message has been the same, everywhere I go, which is: They would like to resolve these issues peacefully and diplomatically,” he added.

He called the Philippines’ approach  to resolving its dispute with China “a sound one.”

Manila has brought the dispute before an international arbitral tribunal, a tack rejected by China.

Obama also stressed that he had no desire to contain or counter China despite clinching a defense pact with the Philippines.

China’s claims to various islands, reefs and atolls in the South and East China Seas have been a constant theme of Obama’s tour of countries which fear being squeezed by the giant nation’s emergence as a regional superpower.

Obama faced a delicate task in Manila as he sought to reassure an ally concerned about an increasingly assertive China, but to avoid worsening tense China-US ties by antagonizing leaders in Beijing.

“We welcome China’s peaceful rise. We have a constructive relationship with China,” Obama said.

“Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China,” Obama said, taking on suspicions in Beijing that his policy of rebalancing power towards the Asia-Pacific was tantamount to encirclement.

The US leader said that Washington did not take a position on the sovereignty of disputed territories variously claimed by China, Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam.

But he said that, as an Asia-Pacific nation, the United States was interested in the freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

“As a matter of international law and international norms, we don’t think coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes,” he said.

Obama expressed hope that at some point, countries would be able to work cooperatively with China since the goal was simply to make sure that everybody was operating in peaceful and responsible fashion.

“When that happens, that allows countries to focus on what is more important to people day-to-day, and that is prosperity, growth, jobs,” he said. 

“You know, those are the things that we as leaders should be focused on, need to be focused on. And if we have security arrangements that avoid conflict and dispute, then we’re able to place our attention on where we should be focusing,” Obama said.

In a state dinner hosted for him by President Aquino last night. Obama cited America’s “ironclad commitment to defend you, your security and your independence” through the two countries’ treaty alliance. 

While there was no mention of China unlike in the earlier joint press conference with Aquino, Obama said Aquino and the Filipino people “bring that same strength and solidarity to our alliance.”

“So let me say tonight on behalf of the American people, we are honored and proud to call you an ally and a friend,” Obama said in his toast during the state dinner at the Rizal Hall of the Palace.  – With Jaime Laude


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