Beijing: South China Sea Territorial Disputes Not on ASEAN Agenda

China's ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations says territorial disputes over islands in the South China Sea will not be on the agenda when Chinese leaders attend an ASEAN summit in Thailand.

Xue Hanqin, China's ambassador to ASEAN, maintains her country's position that territorial disputes in the South China Sea are bilateral, not multilateral, issues. Xue says China believes the dispute is between China and individual South China Sea coastal states -- not an issue between China and ASEAN. Therefore, she says the Chinese government wants to resolve territorial disputes through bilateral negotiations.

Besides China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have overlapping claims to the islands known as the Spratlys. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are among ASEAN's 10 member nations, and they prefer multilateral talks over the issue.

The hundreds of mostly rocky reefs are believed to lie over significant deposits of oil and natural gas.

Wednesday, the Chinese ambassador pointed to a declaration signed between China and ASEAN in 2002 as, in her words, "conducive to establishing mutual trust between China and ASEAN countries on the South China Sea issue." She says China is willing to begin talking and cooperating with the countries under the framework of the declaration.

Xue acknowledges that in the past, ASEAN countries did not trust China. But she says Beijing is trying to change that impression. She says it is not up to China to decide how ASEAN countries view it. But she says that China's good neighborliness and willingness to pursue mutual benefits, will, in her words "eventually win the hearts and minds of ASEAN countries."

Among efforts to bring ASEAN and China closer are a free trade zone, which starts January first. Xue also points to the China-ASEAN fund, which is to begin operation later this year, to fund infrastructure, transportation and energy projects.

Chinese officials say $1 billion has been raised in the first stage of the fund's operation. The total is expected to reach $10 billion. Trade volume between China and ASEAN this year has exceeded $200 billion.

Xue also said Wednesday that China is "very satisfied" with the Thai government's security arrangements for the three-day gathering, which begins Friday. An ASEAN summit held in Thailand in April was cancelled at the last minute because demonstrators broke into the center where the meeting was being held and blocked delegations from entering.

VOA News / Oct. 22, 2009 08:41 KST