WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will press the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to come up with a unified position on the South China Sea controversy when she visits Asia again this week, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday.
At the same time, Nuland dismissed suggestions that Philippine-US relations may have been damaged by flag-carrier Philippine Airlines’ signing of a $7-billion deal to buy 54 Airbus jets, a contract that Boeing had hoped to get.
“We have a very long, deep, broad relationship with the Philippines. As you know, we are doing more now in the area of security support than we’ve been able to do in a long time, and I think that relationship is extremely strong,” she said.
Nuland said the US lobbied for Boeing “but nations make sovereign decisions and they make them based on their own set of criteria.”
Asked at a press conference if Clinton’s latest trip was “another effort to put the squeeze on China,” Nuland said this was the secretary’s second or perhaps third trip to the region this year as she was personally very interested in emphasizing the US pivot to Asia. Clinton is also set to visit the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste, Brunei and Russia.
Referring to the South China Sea dispute, Nuland said this was likely to come up on the ASEAN stops in Indonesia and Brunei, as well as China.
“We have been encouraging, as you’ll recall, ASEAN to have a unified position and to work from a position of unity with China, and obviously it will come up in China as well,” Nuland said.
“We are continuing to urge a multilateral conversation about a code of conduct in the South China Sea that is in keeping with international law and the Law of the Sea Treaty. We continue to think that that’s the best way to address these disputes. So I think you will see it come up on many of these stops,” she added.
Asked if the US was worried about the Chinese naval and military buildup in the area as other countries were, she said military specifics were usually the purview of the defense department but added “we don’t want to see the disputes in the South China Sea or anywhere else settled by intimidation, by force.”
“We want to see them settled at the negotiating table, and we have also consistently been calling for increasing transparency in the Chinese military posture.”
China has alarmed many of its neighbors by ratcheting up the rhetoric over its expansive territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. Several countries including the Philippines and Vietnam have overlapping claims to some parts of the sea.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. reiterated the importance of negotiation in resolving the West Philippine Sea dispute with China.
“We don’t want to further escalate tensions. We want a peaceful resolution,” Thomas said in a speech during yesterday’s joint membership meeting of the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines.
“We want all countries to live up to their agreements. We support the Code of Conduct between China and ASEAN. We think this is the best way to resolve this… countries to sit down at the table and negotiate,” he said. – With Louella Desiderio