04/11/2012, 00.00
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South China Sea: common stance against Beijing's imperialism

by Paul N. Hung
Hanoi backs Manila, hoping for a multilateral approach in settling disputes with China. The Chinese Navy has been holding Vietnamese fishermen as hostages for weeks demanding ransom money for their release. Off the coast of the Filipino island of Luzon, the Filipino Navy is confronting Chinese vessels.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Hanoi backs Manila, hoping for a multilateral approach to settling conflicts with Beijing in the South China Sea, an area that is at the centre of fierce dispute over resources. This is one of the outcomes of a recent summit in Cambodia by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Mr. Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines, suggested that the ten-nation association "maintain a common stance" vis-à-vis China, which favours instead bilateral deals with the various stakeholders. Meanwhile Filipino and Chinese warships remain engaged in a naval confrontation off the island of Luzon, a situation that can only increase tensions in the area.

Vietnam accuses the Chinese of holding 21 Vietnamese fishermen it captured inside Vietnamese territorial waters, demanding a US$ 11,000 ransom for each. Vietnam's appeal for their release has been ignored.

Lộc, a fisherman from Lý Sơn Island, said that people are very angry with the "cruel Chinese". He insists that the Paracel Islands belong to Viet Nam.

Lê thị Hậu, 31, said her husband Nguyễn Lợi, 34, was arrested by China's Navy. "I am worried for the fishermen," she added, "because they are often beaten by Chinese naval forces."

The confrontation over resources in the sea now involves India. In the past week, Beijing warned New Delhi that "India should not explore and exploit [resources] in the South East Asia."

The statement follows a series of agreements signed by the Indian and Vietnamese governments, which grants Indian oil companies exploration rights in Vietnamese territorial waters. In response, New Delhi informed Beijing that the affected area is under Vietnam's exclusive jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, a high-profile confrontation between Filipino and Chinese warships continue, involving the Filipino Navy's flagship vessel.

On Sunday, the ship caught eight Chinese fishing boats in Filipino territorial waters, about 120 nautical miles off the coast of Luzon Island. Two Chinese maritime surveillance ships sailed to the disputed area on Tuesday and blocked efforts by the Filipino ship to arrest the fishermen.

On Wednesday, the Chinese embassy in Manila released a statement afternoon insisting the area belonged to China, and ordering the Filipino warship to leave immediately.

The Philippines says it has sovereign rights over areas of the sea within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and that its position is supported by international law.

Among Asia-Pacific nations, China has the most extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Regional hegemony would be strategically important for Beijing because it would allow it to control the region's trade and natural resources, such as oil and natural gas.

Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have challenged China's expansionist aims, backed by the United States.

In the past few months, a number of incidents have occurred involving warships and fishing vessels from different nations.

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