Chinese Territorial Assertions:
The Case of the Mischief Reef
Author: By B.Raman, Institute For Topical Studies,
Date: 14 January 1999
China has on-going disputes with Vietnam, the
Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei regarding conflicting claims of sovereignty
over different islands in the Spratly group in the South China Sea, but its
assertion of its claim over the Mischief Reef at the expense of the Philippines
is an educative case study of how China doggedly pursues its irredentist
territorial claims - by stealth, if possible, and by other means, including
force, if necessary.
The Spratly group consists of 12 main islands and 390 islets, banks, reefs,
shoals and cays, of which only 33 permanently rise above the sea and only
seven of these have an area of more than 0.5 sq.kms. The islands and other
features lie in an area of about 400 nautical miles from East to West and
about 500 nautical miles from North to South. The sea areas contained by
these features constitute about 38 per cent of the South China Sea.
According to legal experts, the 33 features, which are permanently above
the sea, would be entitled, under international law, to have 12 nautical
miles of territorial sea, while 26 of these could have Exclusive Economic
Zone and continental shelf claims. None of the other features could have
any such entitlement since they are not permanently above the sea.
Widely conflicting estimates of huge oil and gas deposits in the area, which
could make it as rich as the Kuwait region , are yet to be proved by exploration.
Amongst those to have made such claims are the Chinese Ministry for Geology
and Mineral Resources (oil and gas reserves of 17.7 billion tonnes as against
Kuwait's 13 billion tonnes), some scientists of the Russian Research Institute
of Geology of Foreign Countries (at least 10 billion tonnes) , Ji Guoxing,
Director of the Asia-Pacific Department of the Shanghai Institute For
International Studies (10 billion tonnes of oil and 25 billion cubic metres
of gas) and the book (author anonymous)" Can China's Armed Forces Win The
Next War?" ( 35 billion tonnes) .
Amongst the skeptics doubting these estimates is E.F.Durkee, General Manager
of the E.F.Durkee and Associates of Manila, who had worked as technical adviser
to the Crestone Energy Corporation of the US during its negotiations with
Beijing in 1992 on exploration rights.
Durkee wrote in the "Far Eastern Economic Review" of March 9,1995, as follows:
" Though media and politicians love to talk about oil in the Spratlys, there
is not one shred of evidence to support the claim. Other than a small amount
of gas and a few barrels of condensate produced at Sampaquita 1 and 3A in
1976 in the Reed Bank within Philippine territory, there have been no reported
hydrocarbons ever produced from the Spratly islands area. If the objective
is gas and oil, the Spratlys are hardly worth the risk of war."
Many analysts are agreed that prospects of oil and gas are not the main motive
for the Chinese policy with regard to the Spratlys. A more important factor
is China's irredentist impulse and its desire to prevent any sea-borne threat
to South China from the South China Sea. Its irredentist motives are evident
from its description of the islands as historically having belonged to China
and its description of the South China Sea as "China's historical waters."
Its readiness to use force to protect its rights was reflected in the debate
on the passage of the "Law of the People's Republic of China on the Territorial
Sea and Contiguous Zone" in the National People's Congress in February,1992.
During the debate, the Chinese authorities reiterated China's historic claim
over the entire Spratly group and underlined China's right to use force to
evict any "trespassers".
China has been pursuing a policy of calculated ambiguity. It has never spelt
out in detail what exactly it claims - only some islands or all the islands,
the South China Sea itself as its territorial waters, does it look upon the
Spratlys as an archipelago belonging to it ? If so, what happens to the air
and sea navigation rights of other countries ?
The absence of clear-cut answers to these vital questions has added to the
concerns of not only the regional countries, but also others outside the
Before 1994, China followed a two-pronged policy in the assertion of its
claims. In asserting its claims vis-à-vis Vietnam, it used polemics,
often accompanied or followed by ground action to enforce its claims.
Vis-à-vis the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, it restricted itself
mostly to verbal reiteration of its claims without any ground action to the
detriment of these countries.
This was the period ( particularly in the 1980s), when the Philippines still
had close military relations with the US with the latter enjoying base facilities
in the Philippines, China was developing its economy for which it was dependent
on investment flows from the overseas Chinese of the region , it was trying
to strengthen its relations with the ASEAN countries and allay their fears
of China and the prevailing atmosphere in the US was still strongly distrustful
The Chinese leadership was still scrupulously adhering to Deng Xiao-Ping's
1989 advice to "fear no one, antagonise no one, avoid excessively provocative
statements or actions, assume a low profile and don't take the lead."
The post-1994 period has seen a more confident China aware of its growing
economic and military strength and willing to use that strength in pursuit
of its geopolitical objectives. This confidence has been bolstered by the
toning down of the anti-China reflexes of the US Administration - though
not yet of the Congress - and by the recent weakening of the economies of
the ASEAN countries and its impact on their military capability.
This new-found confidence has been reflected in the Chinese readiness to
advance their claims vis-à-vis the Philippines by ground action too,
if necessary, unmindful of adverse international reactions.
In the last week of January,1995, the Captain of a Filipino fishing boat
reported to the Manila authorities that some Chinese, who had occupied the
Mischief Reef claimed by the Philippines, had detained him and his boat when
he went there for fishing and released them after a week.
Subsequently, the Mayor of the Pag-asa island confirmed the presence of the
Chinese and reported that when he went there , as ordered by Manila, for
verification, his boat was driven away by some Chinese ships stationed there.
On February 2,1995, the Filipino Government sent a naval ship and an aircraft
for verification. Thereafter, the then President Fidel Ramos announced on
February 5,1995, that the Chinese had illegally occupied the Reef and described
their action as inconsistent with international law and principles of good
relations. He also announced that Manila was lodging a protest with Beijing.
Reacting to Manila's allegations, Chen Jian, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign
Ministry, said: " Structures had been built on the Reef by China to ensure
the safety and lives as well as the production operations of the fishermen
who work in the waters of the Nansha ( Spratly) Islands. The Chinese side
never detained nor arrested any Filipino ship nor established any military
base on the Meiji (Mischief) Reef."
Nguyen Manh Cam, the Vietnamese Foreign Minister, was on a visit to Manila
when Ramos announced the Chinese occupation of the Reef. Without specifically
referring to the Reef, a joint Filipino-Vietnamese statement on February
6,1995, urged restraint and the Vietnamese Minister told Manila pressmen
that the dispute should be settled peacefully and that "no one should do
anything to make the situation more complex."
Roberto Romulo, the then Filipino Foreign Secretary, said: " Whoever resorts
to force or aggression in that area is the first one who loses all moral
and legal right to make a claim."
The Chinese action created alarm amongst the ASEAN member-countries because
this was the first time that China had unilaterally changed the status quo
at the expense of a claimant other than Vietnam and covertly established
its presence in waters and in an area claimed by the Philippines as falling
within its Exclusive Economic Zone.
The Mischief Reef, which the Philippines calls the Panganiban Reef, is 150
miles West of Palawan, the Philippines' nearest land mass, and 620 miles
South-East of China. The Pag-asa island of the Spratly group, which is under
the administrative control of the Philippines since 1973, is 135 kms to the
North-West of the Reef.
On February 15,1995, Ramos ordered the strengthening of Filipino military
forces in the remaining areas claimed by his country and the intensification
of aerial surveillance over the area.
After a meeting of his National Security Council the same day, he said that
the Philippines would exhaust all diplomatic options and added: " As part
of this diplomatic effort, the Philippines has put forward as an interim
measure the concept of stewardship. Each disputed island should be placed
under the stewardship, meaning the primary responsibility, of the claimant
country closest to it geographically, on the understanding that the steward
country accommodates the other claimants' need for shelter, anchorage and
other peaceful pursuits."
In an apparent attempt to project the issue as a multilateral problem, Ramos
said that "the issue is of concern to all countries interested in the long-term
stability of the South China Sea and the East Asian region as a whole."
According to him, by building military structures on the Reef, China had
unilaterally changed the status quo and confronted the Philippines with a
fait accompli. He also revealed that in response to Manila's protest, Beijing
had claimed that the occupation of the Reef was " ordered by low-level
functionaries acting without the knowledge and consent of the Chinese
This gave rise to speculation that the PLA (Navy) might have acted on its
own without the knowledge of the political leadership, but this was proved
wrong by a statement of Qian Qichen, the then Chinese Foreign Minister, on
March 10,1995, which clearly showed that the political leadership approved
of the occupation.
He said: " Ours is not a military activity and will pose no threat to other
countries. Chinese fishermen have been traditionally fishing in the region
and shelters have been built to protect them. China has had sovereignty over
the islands since ancient times and there were no disputes. Just in the late
70s, some countries made claims over the islands. China has shown restraint
and is willing to develop the region in a co-operative way, setting aside
A team of Filipino officials led by Rodolfo Severino, Under Secretary in
the Foreign Office, was sent by Ramos to Beijing for talks with the Chinese
authorities on March 22,1995. On his way, Severino went to Singapore for
meeting his ASEAN counterparts. They issued a joint statement expressing
" their serious concern over recent developments which affect peace and stability
in the South China Sea."
The Beijing talks failed. Severino said after the talks: " The Chinese continued
to maintain their position that these structures are wind shelters for their
fishermen. We believe that this has set back the moves towards
confidence-building since 1990."
Commenting on the failure, Ramos said on March 23,1995: " They (the Chinese)
are saying , we are a big country and if we are trying to send some additional
ships, that is for our coastal defence. But, maybe, that should not just
be taken as a simple explanation. Maybe, it could be used for South China
Sea intervention. But, I hope they stay within what they are telling us."
After the failure of the Beijing talks, the Filipino Navy removed the markers
on a number of reefs, atolls and other features in the Philippines' Exclusive
Economic Zone which had been put up by the Chinese though they had not set
up any physical presence on those features. It also started intercepting
Chinese fishing boats intruding into the Filipino zone.
Reacting to this, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Office, warned at Beijing:
" This action will do no good to a settlement of the issue nor will it harm
China's sovereignty." In an interview to the "Far Eastern Economic Review"
of April 6,1995, Ramos said: " I will not hesitate to take the necessary
protective measures for our territory."
At the instance of China, a meeting of Chinese and ASEAN Foreign Office officials
was held at Hangzhou in China on April 3-4, 1995, to discuss measures for
reducing tension. Rodolfo Severino, who represented the Philippines, claimed
after the meeting that Chinese officials said for the first time that they
were planning to modify their claims to ownership , not of the entire sea,
but only of the islands, reefs and other physical features in the sea.
He then pointed out: " Under international law, a country can claim sovereignty
over the waters 200 kms from its land. The territorial claims around one
reef, for instance, would still overlap with our territorial boundary and
some of them would come very, very close to Palawan."
Qian Qichen, who was in Europe at the time of the Hangzhou meeting, told
pressmen at Bratislava on April 4,1995, that China wanted to end the controversy
and called for common use of the islands. He added: " China's standpoint
is that we want to abandon the controversy and manage the islands together.
China has built on these islands civilian structures with no military character
at all. They were built only to accommodate the work of our fishermen."
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore was in China on a bilateral visit
in May,1995. According to the Singapore authorities, he had raised with the
then Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng on May 11,1995, the question of sovereignty
and navigation in the South China Sea and they had discussed whether sovereignty
covered not only sea lanes, but also the air space.
While the Singapore officials did not indicate what was the Chinese response,
the Xinhua news agency quoted Shen, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign
Ministry,as stating as follows on May 18,1995: " On the issue of the navigation
rights in the South China Sea, the Chinese Government holds a definite and
clear-cut position, namely, China's action to safeguard its sovereignty over
the Nansha (Spratly) Islands and the relevant maritime rights and interests
will not affect navigation through and the freedom and safety of flights
over the international waterway of the South China Sea in keeping with the
There was fresh tension on May 13,1995, when the Filipino Defence Ministry
officials arranged a visit to the vicinity of the Mischief Reef on board
a naval vessel for a party of 38 local and foreign journalists. The aim was
to show them that contrary to its stand that there were no military structures
on the Reef, China was actually constructing military-like fortifications
on the Reef similar to those which it had constructed in the past on the
Johnson and Subi reefs.
When the Filipino naval ship was 10 kms from the Mischief Reef, two Chinese
frigates from the direction of the Johnson Reef , about 100 kms to the West,
blocked its passage.
On May 15,1995, Guan Deng-Min, the new Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines,
handed over to Ramos a letter from President Jiang Zemin proposing that China
and the Philippines jointly develop some of the Spratly islands and undertake
projects such as research, environment protection, rescue operations, disaster
prevention and fisheries. A Manila Foreign Office spokesman said that Ramos
told the Ambassador that talks on any such projects should include other
Apparently, Jiang's conciliatory letter had been sent from Beijing before
the incident of May 13,1995, because on May 16,1995, Beijing reacted strongly
to Manila's action in taking journalists to the vicinity of the Mischief
Reef. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman warned that " any similar action
could result in serious consequences. We advise the other side not to
misinterpret China's restraint, but , instead, to return to the correct path
of negotiations to resolve the dispute."
When the Mischief Reef dispute came to the fore in February, 1995, the Clinton
Administration reacted cautiously and confined itself to a reiteration of
its long-standing policy on the South China Sea. The State Department said:
" The US strongly opposes the threat or use of military force to assert any
nation's claim. The US takes no position on the legal merits of the competing
claims and is willing to assist in the peaceful resolution of the dispute."
On instructions from Manila, the Filipino Embassy in Washington contacted
many Congressmen and lobbied for a stronger expression of US support. In
response to this, in March,1995, Benjamin Gilman, Chairman of the House
International Relations Committee, tabled a resolution warning China against
using force or intimidation in the Spratly area.
The resolution added that the " right of free passage through the South China
Sea is in the national security interests of the US" and called on Clinton
to review the defence requirements of the " democratic claimants." Gilman
said: " In order to avoid a future confrontation that we might lose, we had
better shore up the defences of our democratic friends and allies in the
In a slightly stronger reaction on May 10,1995, the State Department said:
" The US would view with serious concern any maritime claim or restriction
on maritime activity in the South China Sea that was not consistent with
Later, while talking to pressmen at Tokyo , Joseph Nye, then US Assistant
Secretary of Defence for International Security, said : " If military action
occurred in the Spratlys and this interfered with the freedom of the seas,
then we would be prepared to escort and make sure that navigation continues."
The Spratly islands are strewn across sea routes through which 25 per cent
of the world's shipping passes, including oil supertankers for Taiwan, Japan
and South Korea.
A Pentagon study explained the US position as follows: " The US takes no
position on the legal merits of the competing claims. Our strategic interest
in maintaining the lines of communication linking South-East Asia, North-East
Asia and the Indian Ocean makes it essential that we resist any maritime
claims beyond those permitted by the Law of the Sea Convention."
The dispute became the subject of intense discussions by various experts
in the US, including a series of panel discussions organised by the
Congressionally-funded US Institute of Peace. The views of the experts could
be summed up as follows:
(a).Energy requirement was not China's principal motive. The need to make
foreigners recognise its sovereignty was a more important factor. Even if
China did not need the oil and gas of the South China Sea, its position may
(b).In Chinese perception, control over the South China Sea would constitute
effective forward defence against intrusions that had historically come from
the Southern seas. They view the South China Sea as a necessary component
of an inner defence zone against military intervention from the South-East.
The thrust of China's rapid reaction ground forces is primarily towards Southern
( c ). The Chinese policy enjoyed the support of the political leadership
and was not the result of rogue action by the PLA as believed by some.
(d).China's continued dependence on foreign investment flows would rule out
any adventurist action to enforce its claims in the near future.
(e).In Chinese perception, time was on their side and re-unification of Taiwan
was a more important priority and they could, therefore, afford to wait.
There were two significant developments in July,1995. Before the meeting
of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) at Brunei, Ali Alatas, the Indonesian Foreign
Minister, visited Beijing on July 19,1995, to discuss the South China Sea
developments. This was the first visit by an Indonesian Foreign Minister
to China since the two countries restored diplomatic relations in 1990 .
Towards the end of July,1995, a contingent of US navy commandos arrived at
Puerto Princesa, the headquarters of the Philippines Western Military Command,
to train Filipino troops stationed in the Spratly group islands under its
control. A joint study was undertaken of Manila's defence requirements in
the light of the new situation in the South China Sea and as to what extent
the US could meet them.
A proposal was mooted by a group of Filipino Congressmen, including Jose
de Venecia, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, that the Philippines
should again invite US naval ships in the region to come to the Subic Bay
for repairs and re-fitting. The Ramos Government did not, however, accept
These indications of a possible revival of active military co-operation between
the US and the Philippines seemed to have had a sobering effect on Beijing.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers, who had gathered at Brunei for the ARF meeting
from July 28 to August 1,1995, were pleasantly surprised to find Qian Qichen
giving indications of less rigidity.
Firstly, he expressed China's readiness to discuss the issue with all the
ASEAN claimants , thereby reversing its previous insistence that it would
discuss this only bilaterally with each claimant.
Secondly, while reiterating China's claim of "indisputable sovereignty" over
the Spratlys, he indicated that China would be willing to recognise international
laws, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, as a basis
for settling the differences. At the same time, he opposed the involvement
of non-ASEAN outside powers in the negotiations.
Commenting on this, Domingo Siazon, the then Filipino Foreign Secretary,
said: " I would not call it a concession. However, I think China is now having
a position of opening the door to a possible political compromise. That was
not the case when claims were based only on historical rights."
Ali Alatas said: " On the basis of the UN Law of the Seas, there is no more
guessing how you draw lines for an Exclusive Economic Zone or a continental
shelf. There are no more disputes over what are considered the lines of an
A US State Department spokesman said: " The tone of China referring to
international law and the Law of the Seas gives greater possibility of trying
to find a diplomatic solution, even though China hasn't changed its fundamental
position on its sovereignty claims."
In a further positive development, Manila and Beijing announced on August
10,1995, that they had reached a "Code of Conduct" for resolving their dispute
peacefully. They stated that while joint review committees would be set up
under the Code to review possibilities for joint development and management
of the islands, China would be setting up a panel to review "legal rights"
to the islands.
However, China declined to sign the protocol to the Agreement on the Creation
of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in South-East Asia which was concluded at
the ASEAN summit at Bangkok in the second week of December,1995..
Its objection was to the inclusion of the Exclusive Economic Zone/continental
shelf claim areas of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam in the
Treaty area. China thereby made it apparent that its agreement to discuss
the Spratly issue with the ASEAN members on the basis of the Law of the Seas
and other international laws should not lead to an assumption that it had
accepted or would accept the claims of these four ASEAN countries.
The matter rested there during 1996 and 1997, without any significant forward
movement in resolving the dispute. In 1996, China was preoccupied with its
confrontation with Taiwan and its sequel. This and the various controversies
regarding possible flow of Chinese political contributions during the US
elections of 1996 revived the distrust of China in the US.
However, since the middle of 1997, China has managed to improve its image
in the US and Clinton's visit to China last year marked the implicit recognition
by the Clinton administration of China's political primacy in this region.
The weakening of the economies of the ASEAN countries and its impact on their
military capability and political stability , the emergence of signs of
differences amongst the ASEAN member-countries on various issues and the
preoccupation of the usually China-hostile conservative members of the US
Congress with the impeachment of Clinton constitute the setting against which
one has to see the renewed activism of China in the South China Sea since
In the last week of October,1998, a Filipino military surveillance aircraft
reportedly noticed many Chinese ships, including four naval supply ships,
off the Mischief Reef , with about 100 workers busy constructing what the
Filipino authorities suspected was a landing strip for aircraft.
Rejecting Manila's allegations of construction of new military structures
on the Reef, Beijing claimed that it was only replacing the temporary shelters
for fishermen constructed in 1995 with permanent ones.
President Joseph Estrada announced on November 10,1998,that he was sending
additional forces into the area to monitor the Chinese activities and instructed
the Navy and the Air Force "to block exit and entry points" to the disputed
area without getting involved in a military confrontation.
A spokesman of the Philippines Government announced on November 30,1998,
that their Navy had seized six Chinese fishing boats in Filipino waters and
arrested 20 fishermen. Manila rejected a Chinese demand for the release of
the fishermen and said they would be prosecuted for trespassing into Filipino
During a tour of the East Asian region in the beginning of December,1998,
Admiral Joseph Prueher, Commander of the US forces in the Pacific, said that
the US was closely watching the developments and added: " If nations feel
like they have a strong card to play, they will try to do it, when they think
they can get away with it. This is perhaps what China is trying to do in
the Mischief Reef."
Apart from this, in contrast to 1995, there has hardly been any strong reaction
either from the US or from other ASEAN countries preoccupied with their economic
and social problems. Dr. Mahatir Mohammad of Malaysia has apparently not
forgiven Estrada for sympathising with Anwar Ibrahim, his sacked Deputy Prime
Minister. China had contributed to Thailand's rescue package in 1997 and
hence Bangkok was not in a position to react. Anyhow, even in 1995, Bangkok
avoided strong reactions.
Singapore seems to be skeptical of the allegations of Manila and declines
to see Beijing's fresh activity as encouraged by the preoccupation of the
ASEAN countries with their economic woes.
Thus, the only important foreign personality who has strongly come out against
Beijing so far is US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a senior member of the
House International Relations Committee. After flying over the area in a
Filipino aircraft on December 10,1998, he described the fresh Chinese activities
in the Reef as alarming and sinister and strongly condemned the silence of
the Clinton Administration on the development.
Latest reports indicate that China has gone back on its 1995 promise to discuss
the dispute with all the ASEAN claimants and has reverted to its original
stand that it would discuss only bilaterally with each claimant. It seems
to be even dragging its feet on its 1995 proposals for joint development
of the disputed islands.
Expressing the frustration of the Manila authorities, Blas Ople, Chairman
of the Philippines Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview
to the "Newsweek" of December 21,1998: " Great powers, very often, probe
for soft spots. They determine whether they can make some gains at very little
or negligible cost. Throughout history, that is how great powers have conducted
themselves. China is no different."
China cautions against Philippine-US
war games near Spratlys
[8/4/99] BACOLOD, Philippines - China on Tuesday cautioned against the holding
of joint Philippines-US military exercises near the disputed Spratly islands,
Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Fu Ying said Washington should maintain
its policy of neutrality regarding the conflicting claims over the South
China Sea chain.
"In the light of this policy, I think the US will be very careful where they
do military exercises and usually, countries would be very careful to stay
away from disputed areas," she said in a news conference.
"I hope this sensitivity to the disputed area will be respected," said Fu,
who was visiting the central city of Bacolod as a guest of the local
Filipino-Chinese chamber of commerce.
Philippine military chief General Angelo Reyes announced last week that American
and Filipino troops will hold joint exercises in the western island of Palawan,
the closest major Philippine island to the disputed Spratlys chain.
However, Reyes said this was not connected to the simmering disputes over
the Spratlys, insisting "we would not want to deliver any political message."
He said the exercises in Palawan, scheduled in February and March, were "not
near the disputed areas" and had "no relation whatsoever to the Spratlys."
The maneuvers will be the first major joint military exercise between the
Philippines and the United States in four years, signalling the warming defense
relations between the two allies.
Joint military exercises resumed after the Philippine senate ratified an
agreement covering the legal status of US forces participating in the exercises
when they commit crimes in the country.
The Philippines and China, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam,
have laid partial or entire claims to the Spratlys which guard vital shipping
lanes and are believed to sit atop vast mineral deposits.
A dispute over Chinese construction on Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef and
the sinking of two Chinese fishing boats in collisions with Filipino navy
warships have strained bilateral ties.
Fearing China, Manila Turns to
[7/5/99] WASHINGTON - Eight years after the Philippines ordered a shutdown
of American military bases on its soil, Filipino concern over Chinese actions
in the South China Sea is leading to a partial revitalization of U.S.-Philippines
At issue is Chinese construction on Mischief Reef, about 150 miles from
Philippine territory and 800 miles from China. Manila is worried that Chinese
construction there could be used to assist military operations.
Neither the United States nor the Philippines is talking about reviving the
sprawling U.S. bases that were once the centerpiece of a military relationship
that reached a high point in 1944 when U.S. forces helped liberate the islands
from Japan. Since 1951, the two countries have been bound together by a defense
Nowadays, a more modest - and more politically sustainable - arrangement
is contemplated, involving joint military exercises and periodic visits to
Filipino ports by large U.S. military vessels. American officials declined
to speculate about the possibility that the evolving relationship with the
Philippines could one day bring the United States into a conflict with China.
In any case, the shift in sentiment in the Philippines toward its one-time
colonizer has been dramatic. In 1991, when the Philippines Senate rejected
a proposed treaty governing the U.S. bases, then-Senators Joseph Estrada
and Orlando Mercado were among those voting against it. Months later, the
U.S. military abandoned the bases.
Today, Estrada is president and Mercado is defense secretary. Both are
enthusiastic proponents of renewed military ties with the United States.
In late May, the Philippines Senate voted 23-5 to approve a so-called Visiting
Forces Agreement, which lays the legal groundwork for the return of American
servicemen. Plans are under way for joint exercises early next year.
In rejecting church and Communist opposition to the proposal, Mercado said,
``Our country is weak, is extremely vulnerable to external threats and needs
this alliance (with the United States) in order to protect our national
Just how far the United States will be willing to go to defend its ally is
a matter of debate. Outgoing Filipino Ambassador Raul Rabe said in an interview
that the United States pledged before the May vote to extend its defense
perimeter into the South China Sea.
U.S. officials say the administration has merely reaffirmed long-standing
policy of pledging to consult with the Philippines if either party's territory
is attacked - consistent with the defense treaty's language.
The officials, who asked not to be identified, also seemed intent on not
raising the rhetorical temperature - perhaps with a view toward someday mediating
the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China, a role it could
not play if it aligns itself too closely with the Filipino position. The
South China Sea is but one of many territorial disputes in the region.
``We're not going to give them (the Philippines) a blank check,'' one official
said. He also noted the United States has made clear its neutrality in the
South China Sea dispute and he cited approvingly China's assertion that it
will not interfere with freedom of navigation there. No significant U.S.
weapons sales to the Philippines are contemplated, he added.
If China is alarmed by the resurrection of the U.S.-Philippines military
ties, it is not saying so publicly. China's ambassador to Manila, Fu Ying,
told the Far Eastern Economic Review: ``We see the proposed Visiting Forces
Agreement as a matter between the Philippines and the U.S.''
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a member of the House International Relations
Committee, is alarmed by what he calls ``a massive military buildup'' by
China in the region.
China, he said, ``is claiming the entire area of the South China Sea....
This is a blueprint for war on the part of Beijing.'' [AP]
JH8 Chinese Maritime Air Force Jet
The South China Sea is defined by the International Hydrographic Bureau as
the body of water stretching in a Southwest to Northeast direction, whose
southern border is 3 degrees South latitude between South Sumatra and Kalimantan
(Karimata Straits), and whose northern border is the Strait of Taiwan from
the northern tip of Taiwan to the Fukien coast of China. The South China
Sea region is the world's second busiest international sea lane. More than
half of the world's supertanker traffic passes through the region's waters.
In addition, the South China Sea region contains oil and gas resources
strategically located near large energy-consuming countries.
The South China Sea encompasses a portion of the Pacific Ocean stretching
roughly from Singapore and the Strait of Malacca in the southwest, to the
Strait of Taiwan (between Taiwan and China) in the northeast. The area includes
more than 200 small islands, rocks, and reefs, with the majority located
in the Paracel and Spratly Island chains. The Spratlys links the Pacific
Ocean and the Indian Ocean. All its islands are coral, low and small, about
5 to 6 meters above water, spread over 160,000 to 180,000 square kilometers
of sea zone (or 12 times that of the Paracels), with a total land area of
10 square kilometers only. The Paracels also has a total land area of 10
square kilometers spread over a sea zone of 15,000 to 16,000 square kilometers.
Many of these islands are partially submerged islets, rocks, and reefs that
are little more than shipping hazards not suitable for habitation. The islands
are important, however, for strategic and political reasons, because ownership
claims to them are used to bolster claims to the surrounding sea and its
The South China Sea is rich in natural resources such as oil and natural
gas. These resources have garnered attention throughout the Asia-Pacific
region. Until recently, East Asia's economic growth rates had been among
the highest in the world, and despite the current economic crisis, economic
growth prospects in the long-term remain among the best in the world. This
economic growth will be accompanied by an increasing demand for energy. Over
the next 20 years, oil consumption among developing Asian countries is expected
to rise by 4% annually on average, with about half of this increase coming
from China. If this growth rate is maintained, oil demand for these nations
will reach 25 million barrels per day - more than double current consumption
levels -- by 2020.
Almost of all of this additional Asian oil demand, as well as Japan's oil
needs, will need to be imported from the Middle East and Africa, and to pass
through the strategic Strait of Malacca into the South China Sea. Countries
in the Asia-Pacific region depend on seaborne trade to fuel their economic
growth, and this has led to the sea's transformation into one of the world's
busiest shipping lanes. Over half of the world's merchant fleet (by tonnage)
sails through the South China Sea every year. The economic potential and
geopolitical importance of the South China Sea region has resulted in jockeying
between the surrounding nations to claim this sea and its resources for
Military skirmishes have occurred numerous times in the past two decades.
The most serious occurred in 1976, when China invaded and captured the Paracel
Islands from Vietnam, and in 1988, when Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed
at Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands, sinking several Vietnamese boats
and killing over 70 sailors.
The disputed areas often involve oil and gas resources:
Indonesia's ownership of the gas-rich Natuna Island group was undisputed
until China released an official map indicating that the Natunas were in
The Philippines' Malampaya and Camago natural gas and condensate fields are
in Chinese-claimed waters.
Many of Malaysia's natural gas fields located offshore Sarawak also fall
under the Chinese claim.
Vietnam and China have overlapping claims to undeveloped blocks off the
Vietnamese coast. A block referred to by the Chinese as Wan' Bei-21 (WAB-21)
west of the Spratly Islands is claimed by the Vietnamese in their blocks
133, 134, and 135. In addition, Vietnam's Dai Hung (Big Bear) oil field is
at the boundary of waters claimed by the Chinese.
Maritime boundaries in the gas-rich Gulf of Thailand portion of the South
China Sea have not been clearly defined. Several companies have been signed
exploration agreements but have been unable to drill in a disputed zone between
Cambodia and Thailand.
Most of these claims are historical, but they are also based upon internationally
accepted principles extending territorial claims offshore onto a country's
continental shelf, as well as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law
of the Sea.
The 1982 convention created a number of guidelines concerning the status
of islands, the continental shelf, enclosed seas, and territorial limits.
Three of the most relevant to the South China Sea are:
Article 3, which establishes that "every state has the right to establish
the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical
Articles 55 - 75 define the concept of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),
which is an area up to 200 nautical miles beyond and adjacent to the territorial
sea. The EEZ gives coastal states "sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring
and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living
or non-living, of the waters superjacent to" (above) "the seabed and of the
seabed and its subsoil..."
Article 121, which states that rocks that cannot sustain human habitation
or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or
The establishment of the EEZ created the potential for overlapping claims
in semi-enclosed seas such as the South China Sea. These claims could be
extended by any nation which could establish a settlement on the islands
in the region. South China Sea claimants have clashed as they tried to establish
outposts on the islands (mostly military) in order to be in conformity with
Article 121 in pressing their claims.
In mid-1991, fresh from diplomatic success in helping to end the Cambodian
civil war, Indonesia took the initiative in seeking to open multilateral
negotiations on competitive South China Sea claims, especially those claims
involving jurisdictional disputes over the Spratly Islands. Indonesia has
taken a leading role in diplomatic initiatives and cooperative agreements
to resolve South China Sea issues, particularly through the ASEAN (Association
of Southeast Asian Nations) forum, which has called for the peaceful arbitration
of territorial claims. ASEAN includes all South China Sea nations except
for China and Taiwan, and has held a number of working groups with China
and Taiwan on related issues that have the potential to foster the cooperation
and friendship needed to resolve the more contentious issues in the region.
Indonesia hosted the first of these workshops in 1990. The ASEAN foreign
ministers have reiterated the invitations to all parties directly concerned
to subscribe to the principles of the ASEAN Declaration on the South China
In late 1998 the presidents of China and the Philippines agreed to form a
committee of experts to advise on confidence-building measures.
In late November 1999 officials of ASEAN agreed to draft a regional code
of conduct to prevent conflicts over the Spratly Islands in advance of the
ASEAN summit in Manila. The Philippines, which drafted much of the proposed
code, sought to align ASEAN's members in a common stance against what it
saw as Chinese expansionism in the Spratlys. China agreed to hold talks with
ASEAN member nations on the newly formulated draft code of conduct. But China,
which claims the entire South China Sea, signalled it was not ready to agree
to the ASEAN draft. Vietnam wanted the code to cover the Paracels while Malaysia
did not want the code to refer to all of the South China Sea. China, which
is not an ASEAN member and claims all of the islands, opposed inclusion of
the Paracels in the code. Australia pressed for the proposed code to include
a moratorium on the occupation of reefs and atolls or building on them.
In January 2000 photographs of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands were
shown to the foreign ministers of the other eight ASEAN countries by Philippine
foreign minister, Domingo Siazon. The photographic evidence showed that China
had expanded installations on the reef since 1995, when it first started
building what it said were shelters for fishermen. There are now four sites
on the reef with installations that could be connected to form a fortress,
like Gibraltar, or a five-star hotel for fishermen.
Southeast Asian countries, concerned that Beijing might be strengthening
its claim to much of the South China Sea, called for restraint and strict
observance of international law in a high-level meeting with China in January
On 04 November 2002 the Governments of the Member States of ASEAN and the
Government of the People's Republic of China signed the "Declaration on the
Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea." The Parties undertook to exercise
self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea that would
complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including,
among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited
islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences
in a constructive manner.
China and the Philippines have discussed possible joint exploration for petroleum
in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The speaker of the
Philippine House of Representatives, Jose de Venecia, said the chairman of
China's parliament, Wu Bannguo, made the proposal 31 August 2003 during talks
in Manila. China also pledged to increase investment in the Philippines.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing vowed to increase investments in the
Philippines to match the growing Philippine investment in China. The two
ministers also discussed the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
In September 2003 representatives of the Philippines, China and other claimant
countries of the Spratly Islands signed a declaration of peace to promote
the development of the resources in the disputed islands. The declaration
was signed at the Asian Association of Parliaments for Peace (AAPP) conference
in the Philippines.
In March 2005, the national oil companies of China, the Philippines, and
Vietnam signed a joint accord to conduct marine seismic experiments in the
Spratly Islands for economic purposes.
Suggested confidence-building measures among claimant countries include joint
research and development in the Spratlys. Among the suggestions to enhance
the development of the Spratly Islands include the creation of a marine park;
establishment of a South China Sea Institute for Marine Resources Management,
conducting a joint survey and assessment of the mineral and hydrocarbon potential
and implementation of maritime safety and surveillance measures.
SOUTH CHINA SEA TERRITORIAL ISSUES
[Click on photo]
Competing territorial claims over
the South China Sea and its resources are numerous, with the most contentious
revolving around the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands (the Xisha and the
Nansha in Chinese; the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa in Vietnamese). The Spratlys
are claimed in total by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, whereas Malaysia laid
claim to parts of the continental shelf underlying the southernmost islands
in the chain. Indeed, ownership of virtually all of the South China Sea is
contested. The disputed islands in the South China Sea assumed importance
only after it was disclosed that they were near the potential sites of
substantial offshore oil deposits.
In 1939 the Japanese military government announced its decision to take
possession of the Spratlys. France protested on 04 April 1939 when Japan
announced it had placed the Spratlys "under its jurisdiction." In 1941 Japan
forcibly took over the islands as part of its World War II strategy. During
the War, France defended the Spratlys from Japanese military forces. In 1949
Vietnam "inherited" from France all former French rights over the Paracel
Islands and the Spratlys Islands. Vietnam emphasizes "actual exercise of
sovereignty over mere geographic contiguity" as a basic ground for its claim.
In the 1951 "San Francisco Peace Treaty" Japan relinquished all titles and
claims to the Paracel Islands and the Spratlys Islands. From 1956 to 1963,
Vietnamese naval troops built "sovereignty steles" in the Spratlys.
The most proactive claimant in the region is China. In 1909 it seized some
islands in Xisha (the Paracels). In 1946 it seized Itu Aba (in the Spratlys)
and Phu Lan Island (in the Paracels). In 1950's China seized additional Hoang
Sa (Paracels) islands, which it forcibly repeated in 1974. Vietnam claims
that these acts were unlawful and that the United States in 1974 conspired
with China for the take-over of the Paracels.
In January 1974, Chinese military units seized islands in the Paracels occupied
by South Vietnamese armed forces, and Beijing claimed sovereignty over the
Spratlys. Following their conquest of South Vietnam in the spring of 1975,
units of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) nevertheless moved to occupy
the Spratly Islands previously held by the Saigon regime. In 1978 Vietnam
and the Philippines agreed to negotiate but failed to settle their conflicting
claims to the Spratly Islands. Foreign Minister Thach, during a late-1982
visit to Indonesia, took a conciliatory position in discussing Vietnam's
and Indonesia's competing claims to the Natuna Islands, and in 1984 Hanoi
made a similar gesture to Malaysia in order to help resolve their conflicting
claims over Amboyna Cay.
In a 1988 incident, possibly related to Cambodia because it potentially
strengthened China's position at a future bargaining table, the ongoing dispute
between China and Vietnam over sovereignty to the Spratly Islands erupted
into an unprecedented exchange of hostilities. The situation was reduced
to an exchange of accusations following the armed encounter. Vietnam's repeated
calls for China to settle the dispute diplomatically won rare support for
Vietnam from the international community, but elicited little response from
Beijing. A conciliatory mood developed on both sides of the Sino- Vietnamese
border in 1989, partly because Vietnam's proposal to withdraw completely
from Cambodia responded to a basic Chinese condition for improved relations.
Mischief Reef is part of the Spratly
Islands. Mischief Reef was discovered by Henry Spratly in 1791 and named
by the German Sailor Heribert Mischief, one of his crew. China has sent naval
vessels into the area and has constructed crude buildings on some of the
islands. Beijing maintains that the shacks are there solely to serve Chinese
fishing boats. Manila describes the buildings as "military-type" structures.
According to reconnaissance photos by the Philippine Air Force, these structures
do not look like fishermen's sanctuaries. They seem to have radar systems
which are not normally associated with the protection of fishermen.
Itu Aba Island is used by Taiwan, ROC fishermen as a rest stop. Itu Aba Island
is located at the northwest end of the northern part of the Spratly Archipelago
near the Cheng Ho Reefs (Tizard Bank). In 1938 the Indochina Meteorological
Service set up a weather station on Itu-Aba island which remained under French
control from 1938 to 1941. When World War II erupted in 1941 Japan took control
of said weather station.
On 08 June 1956 Taiwan sent troops to occupy Thai Binh Island (Itu Aba -
Peace Island), the largest island in the Spratlys. Vietnam claims that "as
late as December 1973, the Far Eastern Economic Review of Hongkong
reported that a marker still stood there with the inscription: 'France -
Ile Itu Aba et Dependences - 10 Aout 1933." The northwestern part of the
Tizard Bank consists of Itu Aba in the west, Center Cay in the center, and
on the east side Sand Cay, all claimed by Taiwan since 1955.
Since the end of World War Two, the ROC navy has guarded the island for over
fifty years; they have a major responsibility to ensure the security of the
South China Sea. A Taiwan, ROC garrison is stationed on Itu Aba on a permanent
basis, making the building of roads and military installations an important
task. As a result, the island now has well-built roads, and the soldiers
keep it as clean as a well-kept park.
The the Kalayaan Islands, as Filipinos call some of the Spratlys, lie in
a shallow section of the South China Sea west of the Philippine archipelago.
Kalayaan is a rich fishing area that had been identified as a potential source
of petroleum deposits. Tomas Cloma, a Manila lawyer, visited the islands
in 1956, claimed them for himself, named them Kalayaan (Freedomland), then
asked the Philippine government to make them a protectorate.
Vietnam brands as erroneous the Philippine theory that the Spratly Islands
were "res nullius" when Tomas Cloma "pretended to 'discover' the Vietnamese
Truong Sa islands in 1956". Manila regularly tried to extract from the United
States a declaration that it would defend the Philippines' claim to the Kalayaans
as part of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of the Philippines
and the United States of America, but the United States just as regularly
refused so to interpret that treaty.
The Philippine government first put forth informal claims to Kalayaan in
the mid-1950s. Philippine troops were sent to three of the islands in the
Kalayaans in 1968, taking advantage of the war situation in the Republic
of Vietnam. In 1974, the Philippine government declared that it had garrisoned
five of the islands. In 1978 Marcos made formal claims by declaring that
fifty-seven of the islands were part of Palawan Province by virtue of their
presence on the continental margin of the archipelago. The Philippine military
continued to garrison marines on several islands.
Layang Layang (Swallow's Reef, although there are no swallows present) is
a small reef in the Spratly Islands, and is currently operated and managed
by the government of Malaysia. Swallow Reef is the only reef in Swallow Atoll,
which is exposed to the sea. The island is long and narrow, stretching from
the northeast to the southwest. It is small in area, around 0.1 square
The amazing fact about Swallow Reef is that this tiny, exposed islet was
practically man-made! It was built by the Malaysian government, which collected
sand and connected two isolated reefs by filling the channel between them.
The Malaysian government opted to build an airstrip, dive resort and military
installation on this reef since in 1983. Seventy soldiers live on this island
and the dive resort is open to any visiting scuba divers. Swallow Reef is
fast hecoming another of Malaysia's premier dive destination.
Implications for U.S. Policy Toward the South China Sea
Given the complexities of the South China Sea dispute and the difficulty
of evaluating the legal and historical legitimacy of competing claims, what
are the implications for U.S. policy toward the South China Sea? In view
of the possible options that have already been presented for jump-starting
political negotiations among the claimants, what role, if any, might the
United States play in supporting a peaceful settlement?
A coherent and effective U.S. policy toward the South China Sea must include
two objectives: (1) to help the disputants to generate the political will
to engage in a negotiating process, and (2) to maintain the credibility of
the U.S. intent to deter any one (or group of) claimants from unilaterally
asserting a solution by force of arms.
The immediate U.S. interests in the South China Sea disputes include maintaining
peace and stability in the South China Sea, maintaining freedom of navigation,
and upholding international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of
the Sea. These points were emphasized in a May 10, 1995, statement by the
U.S. Department of State on the Spratly Islands and the South China Sea.
While maintaining its neutral position on the legal merits of the various
territorial claims, the United States expressed concern over destabilizing
unilateral actions in the region, declared that maintaining freedom of navigation
is in the fundamental interest of the United States, and strongly urged that
the disputants peacefully resolve the dispute among themselves consistent
with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The initial reactions of Chinese government press spokesmen to the U.S. statement
were negative, but Foreign Minister Qian Qichen's statements the following
August at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Brunei ostensibly committed
the PRC to a path consistent with what the U.S. government had recommended.
This pattern suggests that repeated U.S. expressions of interest in seeing
an expeditious and peaceful settlement of the South China Sea dispute might
help deter unilateral actions by the claimants and maximize the possibility
for a negotiated solution, rather than waiting for all sides to continue
to harden their respective positions. At the same time, the United States
might underscore its neutrality and avoid mediating the dispute on behalf
of any single party.
The National People's Congress (NPC) ratified the UN Convention on the Law
of the Sea in May 1996, a move that specialists hailed as a major step forward
in clarifying the rules under which China will consider its claim, as only
islands and rocks above water at high tide generate maritime zones.
Simultaneously, the NPC declared straight baselines from which Chinese claims
to an EEZ and continental shelf will presumably be measured, including some
baselines surrounding the Paracel Islands that deviate from conventional
practice, in which only archepelagic states may draw baselines enclosing
groups of islands. As part of its interest in upholding the generally accepted
interpretations of the Law of the Sea, it is likely that the United States
will dispute the Chinese baselines around the Paracels or any other future
baseline claims that do not conform to conventional international practice
(as has also been the case with Vietnam's expansive baseline claims).
Many specialists believe a leading U.S. role in trying to resolve the Spratly
Islands dispute is likely to complicate matters by adding another contentious
issue to the already-overloaded agenda of U.S.-Chinese relations. Such a
role would also be perceived by China as interference by a nonclaimant in
an attempt to internationalize the issue. At the same time, the fact that
China responded at the ARF meeting in Brunei to the major U.S. concerns
highlighted in its May 10, 1995, statement on the Spratly Islands suggests
that the United States may be able to indirectly influence the claimants
to be active in constructive directions while also taking actions to diminish
the possibility that intimidation tactics might be used as part of a negotiation
The U.S. naval presence in the region is essential in implementing the second
aspect of U.S. policy toward the South China Sea by deterring the use of
military force by any of the disputants. A regular U.S. naval presence in
the South China Sea area underscores the nation's interest in stability and
reinforces the prevailing interpretation that a significant part of the South
China Sea outside of the immediate area of the Spratly Islands is categorized
as high seas, where no party exercises territorial jurisdiction.
In the event of destabilizing unilateral actions by any party to the Spratly
Islands dispute, the U.S. Navy has an interest in playing its balancing role
in the Asia-Pacific area by undertaking an augmented presence in international
waters proportional to the severity of any unilateral provocation. Such a
response would underscore the U.S. commitment to seeing the dispute resolved
nonviolently, while avoiding taking sides in or becoming a party to the conflict.
The recent U.S. naval response to Chinese missile exercises in the Taiwan
Straits show that a stepped-up U.S. military presence in response to aggressive
unilateral actions may be important in reassuring Asian allies that the United
States maintains the political will to deter aggressive or destabilizing
unilateral actions that threaten the status quo in Asia.
Some analysts have suggested that the United States support greater transparency
in the South China Sea by using satellite reconnaissance to actively monitor
and make public reports on activities in the area. Another possibility--if
such information were made available to a nongovernmental mediator respected
by all sides in the Spratly Islands dispute--would be to find a way to provide
technical support for South China Sea "proximity" negotiations by using satellite
imagery similar to that provided by the Defense Mapping Agency for the Bosnian
The likelihood is slim that direct U.S. intervention will be useful or accepted
in resolving the Spratly Islands dispute. After all, there is a range of
mechanisms that might be used to bring about a peaceful settlement of the
issue without U.S. involvement. The most constructive role for the United
States may be in urging the parties to muster the political will necessary
to find peaceful solutions while continuing to discourage a military resolution
of future disputes. Most important, the United States might support preventive
diplomacy by the parties involved by underscoring positive precedents such
as the decision by Great Britain and Argentina to enter into negotiations
over Falkland Islands boundaries without prejudice to the claims made by
the disputants themselves. A steady U.S. policy of "active neutrality"--combined
with a "forward-leaning" posture to deter potentially destabilizing military
aggression and stepped-up support for an expeditious and peaceful resolution
of the parties' conflicting claims consistent with the Law of the Sea--is
the surest sign of support for preventive diplomacy that the United States
can offer to deter potential conflict in the South China Sea.
Bulk of agreement reached on Spratlys
[1999-11-29] SINGAPORE - Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji said on Monday the bulk
of an agreement on a proposed code of conduct on disputed islands in the
South China Sea has been reached but disagreements remain.
Zhu, who is on a state visit to Singapore, said the disagreements were both
among members of the Association of South East Asian Nations and with China.
``In principle all the parties concerned have expressed their support to
such a code of conduct. Actually we have reached an agreement on the bulk
of the code of conduct,'' Zhu told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister
Goh Chok Tong.
Zhu said the code of conduct was a very serious and important matter to China
and it would not rush to sign an agreement.
``It is important that after signing it is carried out, therefore we need
to have full consultation in order to achieve unanimous agreement,'' he said
through an interpreter.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said on Friday in Manila that ``major
differences'' existed between it and other claimants, adding that rival claimants
had put up ``new obstacles'' to the signing of the plan to defuse tensions
in the area.
At the centre of the dispute is a cluster of isles, reefs and rocky outcrops
-- called the Spratly islands -- which are potentially rich in oil and straddle
strategically important sealanes.
The Spratlys are claimed wholly or in part by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the
Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Adjacent to the Spratlys is another island
group, the Paracels, which are disputed by Vietnam and Brunei.
ASEAN groups Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam,
the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei.
Zhu said his bilateral talks with Goh focused on improving already strong
diplomatic and economic relations. Goh will make a state visit to China next
The spokesman said Zhu has called for deepening economic and trade relations
by inviting more investment from Singapore in central and western China.
He said the two sides looked to strengthen cooperation in the financial sector
to guard against risks and explore listing of Chinese companies in Singapore.
A Chinese embassy official in Singapore said bilateral trade had grown to
$8.15 billion in 1998 from $2.82 billion in 1990.