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China frowns tackling sea row at ASEM

BEIJING – The South China Sea is not on the agenda and should not be discussed at a major summit between Asian and European leaders in Mongolia at the end of the week, a senior Chinese diplomat said yesterday.

The Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, will be the first important multilateral diplomatic gathering after the July 12 ruling by an arbitration court hearing a dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea.

Tensions and rhetoric have been rising ahead of the ruling in the Dutch city of The Hague, a case which China has refused to recognize or participate in. Beijing says the court has no jurisdiction and China cannot be forced to accept dispute resolution.

China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou signaled discussion of the South China Sea would not be welcomed at the event, which happens once every two years, as it’s designed to discuss issues between Asia and Europe.

“The ASEM leaders’ summit is not a suitable place to discuss the South China Sea. There are no plans to discuss it there on the agenda for the meeting. And it should not be put on the agenda,” Kong told a news briefing.

However, Beijing-based diplomats involved with preparations for ASEM say it is inevitable the South China Sea dispute will be raised at the summit, which is expected to be attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The United States has conducted freedom of navigation patrols close to Chinese-held islands, to Beijing’s anger, while China has been bolstering its military presence there.

Kong said that if there are tensions in the South China Sea it is because certain countries outside the region have been putting on shows of force and interfering.

“There is no reason to get the South China Sea issue into this ASEM meeting citing freedom of navigation and security interests as causes of concern. It’s got no leg to stand on,” he added. (Reuters)

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