Manila (AsiaNews) – Disputes over the South China Sea are expected to overshadow the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit held today and tomorrow in the Philippines, which will be followed over the week-end (20-22 November) by the 27th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The Philippines and Vietnam have signed up to a strategic partnership deepening security ties to contain Beijing’s increased “imperialist” assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.
China claims most of the sea (85 per cent), including the Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia, and has started to build a number of artificial islands and military installations.
For their part, Vietnam and the Philippines have brought the issue to the UN tribunal and boosted bilateral ties.
Filipino President Benigno Aquino and his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang expressed concern about the maritime feud.
Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it, with a total value of at least US$ 5 trillion.
By backing their strategic partnership, the two leaders ushered in a “new era for cooperation” between the two countries.
For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational,”
Upon landing in the Philippines for the APEC meeting, US President Barack Obama spoke about the dispute in the South China Sea, which covers an area of 3.5 million square kilometres, saying that China must stop land reclamation in the disputed waters.
Yesterday, the US leader offered the Philippines monetary and naval assistance, adding that he would let one of the most important regions in the world in Chinese hands.
Thus, although not on the agenda, maritime issues are likely to overshadow the APEC summit.
Thailand will be also at the meeting, represented by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, and other leading cabinet members.
Discussions are set to focus on other initiatives based on inclusive and sustainable growth for all of the region’s nations via "integrated economies" to enhance sustainable and resilient communities.
Thailand’s prime minister wants to boost investments in innovation and the digital economy through small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) so as to increase growth.
On the sidelines of the summit, General Prayut held bilateral meetings with the prime minister of Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong’s chief executive, and the presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Russia.
The Thai leader outlined to the other heads of state and government King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s philosophy of "sufficiency economy", part of the monarch’s long-standing initiatives in favour of sustainable agriculture based on Thai culture’s focus on moderation, prudence, knowledge and virtue.
(Weena Kowitwanij contributed to this article)