US won't 'agree to disagree' with China on sea row
Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - November 5, 2014 - 10:14am

MANILA, Philippines — Washington continues to take a strong position against the conduct of Beijing in the South and East China Seas despite its effort to deepen bilateral ties, the top American diplomat said.

Secretary of State John Kerry said in a much-awaited statement on Wednesday that while the United States and China try to manage their differences, it is "not a code for agree to disagree."

"We do not simply agree to disagree when it comes to maritime security, especially in the South and East China Seas," Kerry said in an address on US-China relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

He reiterated the US' neutral position on the contesting claims of China with its neighbors over the waters, but maintained that it is actively pursuing resolutions to settle the longstanding bickering.

"We are deeply concerned about mounting tension in the South China Sea and we consistently urge all parties to pursue claims in accordance with international law," Kerry added.

The official also urged claimant states—some of whom are treaty allies of the US such as Japan and the Philippines—to take significant strides toward completing a binding code of conduct and prevent armed conflict.

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"The United States will work, without getting involved in the merits of the claim, on helping that process to be effectuated, because doing so brings greater stability, brings more opportunity for cooperation in other areas," he said.

While the public perceive some silence on the part of the US in issues it disagrees on with China, Kerry vowed that leaders of the two powers put disagreements on the table and discuss them at length.

"These debates, frankly, don't take place in the spotlight, and much of what we say usually don't end up in the headlines. But I assure you that tough issues are discussed at length whenever our leaders come together," Kerry said.

Kerry heads to Beijing this week, to set the stage for a visit by President Barack Obama for a regional summit and talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That will be first leg of a three-nation swing through Asia, intended to underscore the president's commitment to the region despite the necessity of American attention on security crises in the Mideast and eastern Europe.

But there have been growing signs of friction in the US-China relationship in the past year, despite efforts to expand areas in which they work together and forge closer personal ties between their leaders, after Obama and Xi held an unusually informal summit meeting in California in June 2013.

Kerry emphasized what Obama administration officials have been saying since they declared a reorientation of American foreign policy toward Asia during the president's first term — that the "rebalance" toward the region is not aimed at countering the growing might of China.

"The US-China relationship is the most consequential in the world today. Period. And it will do much to determine the shape of 21st century. That means that we have to get it right," Kerry said.

The Philippines, meanwhile, has protested against China's activities such as land reclamation and construction that disrupt the status quo in the restless maritime area.

While the Southeast Asian nation has gained the support of the international community on its arbitration case against China before the United Nations tribunal, Beijing continues to reject the move and insists on resumption of bilateral negotiations. - with reports from the Associated Press

ASSOCIATED PRESS BEIJING BUT I CHINA CHINESE PRESIDENT XI JINPING JAPAN AND THE PHILIPPINES JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES KERRY SOUTH AND EAST CHINA SEAS SOUTH CHINA SEA
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