China's Foreign Ministry has summoned a senior US diplomat from the embassy in Beijing to protest remarks by the US State Department on the South China Sea. Meanwhile, a senior Chinese official has commented on China-ASEAN relations in relation to the disputes. Singapore's Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong also remarked on the South China Sea at last week's 5th ASEAN and Asia Forum, organised by the SIIA.
China and the US
In a statement released late on Saturday, China's Foreign Ministry said Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Kunsheng summoned the U.S. Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Wang to make "serious representations" about the issue.
On Friday, the US State Department said it was monitoring the situation in the seas closely, adding that China's establishment of a military garrison for the area runs "counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region".
Mr. Zhang said the US statement "disregarded the facts, confused right with wrong, sent a seriously wrong signal and did not help with efforts by relevant parties to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea or the Asia Pacific".
Report: China calls in U.S. diplomat over South China Sea [Reuters, 5 Aug 2012]
Report: New Tensions Rise on South China Sea [Wall Street Journal, 5 Aug 2012]
Last month, China elevated the administrative status of a community called Sansha (pictured) on one of the disputed islands to become a prefectural-level city, responsible for governing surrounding islands.
A commentary published by the Xinhua news agency said the US statement on the matter "reflects the US ambition of manipulating Asian affairs".
"Although Washington claims that it does not take a position on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, it selectively takes sides in these disputes. By doing so, Washington intends to alienate China from countries around the South China Sea," the article said.
Commentary: U.S. should refrain from sending wrong signals over South China Sea [Xinhua, 5 Aug 2012]
China and ASEAN
On Sunday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said: "The South China Sea is not an issue between ASEAN and China, but rather between China and relevant ASEAN countries."
She made the remarks in an interview with Xinhua on the relations between China and the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
In July, officials at the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (45th AMM) in Phnom Penh failed to issue a joint communique at the end of the summit, the first time the grouping has been unable to agree on such a text. The ASEAN countries managed to issue a brief statement after the meeting, after efforts by Indonesia to salvage the situation.
Ms. Fu said the reason why the ministers' meeting was not able to issue a joint communique was because certain ASEAN members claiming sovereignty of parts of the South China Sea "tried to impose their own positions on this issue onto ASEAN", resulting in disagreement.
"This was not a situation the Chinese side had wanted to see," she said.
Report: Sea issue should be resolved by concerned parties [China Daily (Xinhua), 5 Aug 2012]
Singapore's Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said the disagreements over the South China Sea will continue to test ASEAN's ability to forge consensus on difficult political issues.
Mr. Goh said this last week at the 5th ASEAN and Asia forum, organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. Some 300 business leaders attended the forum.
Mr. Goh said: "Whether we like it or not, after the 45th AMM, the South China Sea will remain a test case of ASEAN's ability to forge consensus on difficult problems and act in the region's broader interests."
He said ASEAN's dialogue partners and investors are watching and re-calculating their interests and positions.
"We cannot blame them for this. It is therefore imperative that we address their concerns and demonstrate that we're capable of reaching consensus on even the most sensitive of issues," Mr Goh said.
Analysts agreed with Mr Goh's view. SIIA Senior Fellow Pushpanathan Sundram, who is also managing director of EAS Strategic Advice and former ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General said: "Investments come into the region because the region is stable, the region is peaceful, the region is growing, and the region is an engine for growth.
"So if this doesn't come through the way we handle the South China Sea issue, then the long term I think this will impact on investors."
Report: South China Sea disagreements will test ASEAN: ESM Goh [Channel NewsAsia, 2 Aug 2012]
Report: A 'test case of ASEAN's ability to forge consensus' [TODAY, 3 Aug 2012]