06/24/2011, 00.00
ASIA - UNITED STATES
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South China Sea: Washington's interests fueling tension

The Philippines are turning to the United States to modernize their military. China launches a warning to the U.S., to stay "away" from the region. Chinese diplomacy seeks to calm tensions with Vietnam. But it is open war between the newspapers close to the communist governments of Beijing and Hanoi.
Manila (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Manila is seeking help to modernize its war machine and strengthen the armed forces; Beijing, however, has launched a warning to "stay away" from the controversy. The role of the United States and Washington's aims in the area could exacerbate tensions in the South China Sea, the center of a territorial dispute involving the Philippines, Vietnam and China. Meanwhile it is now open war - at least verbally - between the Chinese and Vietnamese newspapers, with reciprocal exchanges of accusations.

The U.S. will provide weapons to strengthen the Philippine army, ready to "counter any aggressive posture" in the portion of the sea including the Spratly and Paracel islands. In a joint conference with Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the government is "determined and committed" to support the defense of the Philippines. Del Rosario meet with Robert Gates, U.S. Minister of Defense, and other senior U.S. officials to "evaluate what means will be of use" to the government in Manila. Clinton also said she was "concerned" about the evolution of the situation in the South China Sea. However, the Philippine Foreign Minister ensures that the country is "prepared to do what is necessary to repel any attack." Meanwhile, the President Benigno Aquino has allocated 11 billion pesos (just over 250 million dollars) to strengthening the navy.

The U.S. government's interests in the Asia-Pacific alarm China, which has called on Washington to "stay away" from the disputes in the area. Cui Tiankai, Deputy Foreign Minister, stressed that Beijing is not interested in exacerbating the tension, to the point of conflict, but warned that the United States "is not a nation with legitimate claims in the South China Sea." Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei had assured the intention of promoting friendly relations and cooperation "with all nations of the world, especially those close to us."

In the meantime its open warfare - at least in print - between China and Vietnam, with vitriolic articles in major newspapers in both countries. The Hanoi papers point the finger at Beijing, guilty of "exacerbating" the situation, of "distorting" the facts. The Chinese rallied with an editorial in the People's Daily, accusing Vietnam of "continuous provocations," which will be "responded to" by the powerful Chinese navy. It should be noted that the average Chinese and Vietnamese are close to the government and bodies of the Communist Party, which is why, this strategy of tension between the two fronts can not be due to chance or personal initiative.

Among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region, China has the most extensive claims in the South China Sea, which includes the uninhabited Spratly and Paracel Islands, with rich fishing grounds and important oil and gas reserves. Beijing’s claims also reflect its strategic goal of hegemonic control over trade and mineral development, above all oil and natural gas.

Chinese demands have not gone unchallenged. Contenders include Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, as well as the United States, which has its own strategic interests in the region.
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