US to South China Sea claimants: Set good example
Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - July 30, 2014 - 11:59am

MANILA, Philippines — Rival claimants over areas of the South China Sea should build "habits" of cooperation and work on building strong institutions to address "dangerous" maritime disputes, the United States said.

State Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel, the top policymaker for East Asia, said the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and China must influence each other to take steps to resolve the sea row.

"The claimants are the ones who must manage and settle the disputes. They are the ones who must generate the peer pressure—who must hold themselves to high standards, and then set an example for each other," Russel told public affairs forum Commonwealth Club in California on Tuesday (Manila time).

The US has encouraged involved parties to sit down and define and voluntarily freeze problematic activities in the waters without prejudicing their competing claims, Russel said.

"We are urging China and the other claimants to have a conversation about what activities are acceptable to each of them—both to help reduce tensions now, and manage differences in the long run," Russel said.

He said that the diplomatic discussions toward a binding Code of Conduct and the suspension of activities are to make for what is lacking in the the 2002 Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea between Southeast Asian nations and China.

The US believes, however, that "big and powerful countries have a special responsibility to show restraint."

"Tensions have flared over the years as well, and this year, they are running high. China's recent pattern of assertive, unilateral behavior has raised serious concerns about China's expansive claims, and its willingness to adhere to international law and standards," Russel said.

Russel reiterated the US' approval of the Philippines' pursuit of adjudication of the dispute under international law.

"But instead of engaging constructively and arguing its case as the Tribunal has proposed, China has pressured the Philippines to drop its case, and attempted to isolate the Philippines diplomatically," the state department official said.

"International law, not national power, should be the basis for pursuing maritime claims in the South China Sea," he added.

Such steps, many of which are supported by the US, help shape a rules-based order to strengthen regional institutions such as the ASEAN as among the "most consequential undertakings in terms of American interests."

"Southeast Asia's economic dynamism and strategic importance has made it a particular focus of this administration—the 'rebalance within the rebalance,' if you will," Russel said, referring to the US' shift in foreign policy to the Asia-Pacific.

He said that key to Southeast Asia's development is the peaceful settlement of the maritime dustup.

"Over time, strong institutions can influence the conduct of all their members, helping to avoid conflict and incentivize peaceful resolution of disputes," Russel said.

"The Asia-Pacific region has almost limitless potential, if it can avoid the pitfalls ahead. Strong institutions are key – not just to avoid and resolve disputes, but also to lower barriers to trade, and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms," he added.

ASIA-PACIFIC CHINA CODE OF CONDUCT COMMONWEALTH CLUB DECLARATION OF CONDUCT EAST ASIA JAPAN AND CHINA RUSSEL SOUTH CHINA SEA SOUTHEAST ASIA
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