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Hagel warns China vs. Ayungin, Mabini Reef actions

Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - June 2, 2014 - 4:55pm

MANILA, Philippines — American Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated the neutral stance of the US in the South China Sea row but minced no words in warning China over its recent actions on waters claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam.

"China has called the South China Sea 'a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation.' And that’s what it should be. But in recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea," Hagel said at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore on Saturday.

"It has restricted access to Scarborough Reef, put pressure on the long-standing Philippine presence at the Second Thomas Shoal, begun land reclamation activities at multiple locations, and moved an oil rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands," he continued.

Earlier this year, the Chinese Coast Guard drove away Filipino fishermen with water cannons in Scarborough (Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag) and prevented resupply efforts of the Philippine government for Marines stationed at a decrepit Navy vessel on Second Thomas (Ayungin) shoal.

The Department of Foreign Affairs also showed photos of Chinese reclamation on Philippine-claimed waters on Mabini Reef last month.

Hagel said that the US does not side with any of the claimants, but opposes "any nation's use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat to assert those claims."

He said that freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed areas must not be restricted by military or civilian vessels "from countries big or small."

"The United States will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged," Hagel warned.

The defense chief cited the US' reaction in December against China's unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea over contested Senkaku Islands.

The move worsened China's tensions with US-ally Japan, while the US challenged the defense zone with B-52 bomber planes.

"President Obama clearly stated in Japan last month, the Senkaku Islands are under the mutual defense treaty with Japan," Hagel said.

He urged Beijing and rival claimants to recommit to a stable regional order in the South China Sea, which he called "the beating heart of the Asia-Pacific and a crossroads for the global economy."

Hagel said that compromising peace and security in the regional waterway will affect billions of people worldwide.

"The United States will support efforts by any nation to lower tensions and peacefully resolve disputes in accordance with international law," Hagel said.

As part of the Obama administration's rebalance policy to Asia, the US has laid down four security priorities in the region, namely the peaceful resolution of rows, building a "cooperative regional architecture," enhancing military capabilities of allies and strengthening US' capabilities in the region.

Also read: $40M for Philippine maritime capability a 'US priority'

"One of the most critical tests facing the region is whether nations will choose to resolve disputes through diplomacy and well-established international rules and norms ... or through intimidation and coercion," Hagel said.

AIR DEFENSE IDENTIFICATION ZONE AMERICAN DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK CHINA CHINESE COAST GUARD DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS EAST CHINA SEA HAGEL SENKAKU ISLANDS SOUTH CHINA SEA UNITED STATES
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