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Clinton addresses South China Sea rifts

Associated Press / July 25, 2011

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BALI, Indonesia - Increasing and sometimes violent encounters between China and its neighbors with competing claims in the South China Sea are driving up shipping costs and risk getting “out of control,’’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned yesterday, underscoring the urgent need to resolve disputes over resources and territory in the strategic waters.

Clinton spoke in Bali, where China and the Association of Southeast Asian nations took a first step toward establishing a binding code of conduct for the South China Sea last week.

She said dangerous incidents were on the rise and the international community has a vested interest in ending them because they threaten the stability, economic growth, and prosperity of the entire Asia-Pacific.

“The rest of the world needs to weigh in because all of us have a stake in ensuring that these disputes don’t get out of control,’’ Clinton told reporters at a joint news conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

Clinton said increasing incidents of intimidation, such as the ramming of boats and cutting of vessels’ cables, were ratcheting up tensions and raising the “cost of doing business for everyone who travels through the South China Sea.’’

Clinton was in Bali to attend Asia’s largest security conference ahead of which China and ASEAN reached agreement on a declaration intended to pave the way for a code of conduct. But achieving that goal is fraught with difficulty as China has for years rejected such a formal mechanism, preferring to deal with individual countries where its sheer size and strength gives it an advantage.

As she did at the conference on Saturday, Clinton urged all parties to show restraint and to comply with international law. She said all claimants should submit documentation establishing their claims consistent with the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas.

China claims the entire, potentially resource-rich and strategic sea through which one-third of the world’s shipping passes. But others, including Taiwan and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, have partial or overlapping claims.

The loudest protests have come from the Philippines and Vietnam, saying increasingly assertive Chinese ships have interfered with their oil exploration efforts or bullied crews, something Beijing denies.

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