The US and the Philippines began routine naval drills on Tuesday near the South China Sea, as the US exhibited its military presence in the region at a delicate time.
Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training began in the Sulu Sea, separated from the South China Sea by the island Palawan. The exercises feature two US missile destroyers, along with the Philippines’ WWII-era naval vessels. They have taken place since 1995, but the timing and location of these drills has drawn criticism from China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei stated that China “hopes relevant parties do more things that are beneficial to regional stability” in a clear rebuke of the military cooperation.
The US is scheduled to stage similar exercises with Vietnam next month, although it insists that those, too, are routine and unrelated to recent developments in the South China Sea.
On Monday, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning China’s use of force in the South China Sea, and urging a peaceful, multilateral solution to the disputes.
Report & Analysis: US, Philippines hold drills near South China Sea [China Daily, 29 Jun 2011]
China rejected the resolution, saying that the disputes should be resolved through negotiations only with countries directly involved in the disputes, and that freedom of shipping lanes in the Sea has never been affected by the disputes. Still, China maintains that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the entire South China Sea.
Report & Analysis: China rejects US involvement in South China Sea disputes [Christian Science Monitor, 28 Jun 2011]
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Malaysia all have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, with its oil and gas deposits and vital shipping lanes.
On Tuesday, China asked Vietnam to implement a bilateral agreement reached last weekend when Vietnam’s special envoy Ho Xuan Son visited China. Both sides agreed to oppose the involvement of external forces in the dispute, and to prevent public opinion from taking action or making comments that undermine the relationship between the two nations.
Recent weeks have seen an escalation of tensions between China and the other disputants, as Vietnam and the Philippines have accused Chinese vessels of interfering with their ships.
China claims that in 1958, the government claimed the islands of the South China Sea as part of its territory, and there was no dissension from any country until the 1970s, when Vietnam and the Philippines claimed partial sovereignty. In November 2002, China and ASEAN adopted the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties on the South China Sea, which set the stage for possible commercial cooperation between the parties, as well as long term peace and stability.
In March 2005, oil companies from China, Vietnam, and the Philippines signed a deal to jointly prospect oil and gas resources in the Sea.
Report & Analysis: China urges consensus with Vietnam on South China Sea [Xinhua Net, 28 Jun 2011]