Bandar Seri Begawan (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China and some ASEAN countries (most notably the Philippines and Vietnam) are one of the hot topics at the East Asia Summit (EAS), which opened today in Brunei. The United States and Russia are also present at the meeting.
US President Barack Obama is noticeably absent because of domestic issues like the US budget and the debt ceiling crises, with Secretary of State John Kerry leading the US delegation.
Although peace and stability based on respect of international law remain the summit's main goals, differences remain over how to reach an agreement and enforce the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) between the parties.
Disputes in the South China Sea were discussed at the 23rd annual summit, which was held before the 8th East Asia Summit.
At this venue, the United States continues to push for a joint resolution by all the nations concerned, in order to put an end to confrontations.
By contrast, China does not want "third parties" directly involved, insisting on bilateral talks with individual countries to assert its own political and economic power in negotiations.
US Secretary of State Kerry noted the strategic importance for Washington of the Asia-Pacific region, where most international maritime shipping occurs, insisting on a legally binding code of conduct that would govern the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Beijing has instead tried to downplay US influence, pledging to improve relations with the countries of South-East Asia. Prime Minister Li Keqiang has tried to offer increased investment, whilst rejecting multilateral approaches to conflict resolution.
For its part, India said a stable maritime environment, including the right of passage and unimpeded commerce in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, is essential to realise the collective regional aspirations of Asian countries.
"A stable maritime environment is essential to realise our collective regional aspirations," Indian PM Manmohand Singh said.
Among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region, China is one with the broadest territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The Spratly and Paracel Islands, which are almost uninhabited, are rich in natural resources and raw materials. Hegemony in this area of such strategic importance is crucial for trade and seabed oil and natural gas development.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, the Sultanate of Brunei and Taiwan oppose China's expansionist ambitions, along with the United States, which has acted behind the scenes to counter Beijing's imperialism in a region where two-thirds of the world's maritime trade transits.