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South China Sea Disputes to Top ASEAN Summit


Sniffer dogs and members of Burma's bomb squad rest after checking Myanmar International Convention Center, the venue for the 24th ASEAN Summit for explosives in Naypyitaw, Burma, May 9, 2014.

Sniffer dogs and members of Burma's bomb squad rest after checking Myanmar International Convention Center, the venue for the 24th ASEAN Summit for explosives in Naypyitaw, Burma, May 9, 2014.

Escalating tensions in the South China Sea are expected to be among the main points of discussion Saturday at the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Burma, which is hosting the summit for the first time, has tightened security in the capital of Naypyitaw as it prepares to welcome regional leaders beginning Saturday.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said Burma wants the summit to focus on reducing tensions through existing agreements.

"We have already had ASEAN's statement called 'Declaration on South China Sea.' We will try to discuss this issue peacefully and avoid using force," he said. "[Burma], as a member of the ASEAN, will continue to follow this rule."

China has been involved in ongoing maritime incidents with ASEAN members Vietnam and the Philippines.

Earlier this week, Manila arrested 11 Chinese fishermen for poaching in a disputed area near the Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands. Philippines police dismissed China's demands to release the men.

Meanwhile, Chinese and Vietnamese ships collided this week in a dispute over Beijing's placement of an oil rig in disputed waters near the Paracel Islands.

Sino-Burmese analyst Hla Kyaw Zaw said the dispute with the Philippines will be the toughest due to the U.S. endorsement behind it.

"The problem with Philippines is more serious, I think, given that the U.S. president came and stood by the Philippines recently," Hla Kyaw Zaw said. "Most of the ASEAN countries, like Laos, Cambodia, Brunei and Malaysia, are mutually dependent with China, so I would say they may prefer bilateral solution as China suggested."

In Beijing Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized the U.S. for its recent remarks about the on going disputes.

"It must be pointed out that the recent series of irresponsible and wrong comments from the United States which neglect the facts about the relevant waters have encouraged certain counties' dangerous and provocative behavior," she said.

The U.S. this week said the decision to move the oil rig to its current location is "provocative" and will further raise regional tensions.

Vietnam on Wednesday accused Chinese ships of intentionally and repeatedly ramming its vessels and injuring six Vietnamese sailors.

Duong Danh Dy, a former Vietnamese diplomat to China and an expert on Vietnam-China relations, told VOA's Vietnamese service Thursday that the current situation is extremely dangerous and Hanoi can no longer compromise.

"I think Vietnam is capable of dealing with China," he said. "Vietnam in recent years has updated its military equipment. Vietnam has its own way of dealing with the issue. We defeated invaders from Chinese Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties in the past. China nowadays is not only violating our sovereignty, but at the same time also exploring our oil resources. If we step backward this time, they will push another step forward next time. We all know China very well.”

China has downplayed the incident. Speaking Thursday in Beijing, Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping declined to describe the incident as a "clash." He also said he is optimistic China can peacefully resolve the situation with Vietnam, which he called a "friendly" neighbor.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea. Its claims overlap with those of Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.

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