Amid disputes, Indonesia renames part of South China Sea
By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
Jul. 17, 2017
BEIJING (AP) — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
INDONESIA RENAMES PART OF SOUTH CHINA SEA TO SECURE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE
Indonesia has named waters in its exclusive economic zone that overlap with China's expansive claim to the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea, an assertion of sovereignty that has angered Beijing.
The decision announced Friday by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs has been in the works since mid-2016 and was vital to law enforcement at sea and securing Indonesia's exclusive economic zone, said Arif Havas Oegroseno, the deputy minister for maritime sovereignty.
He said the name would reduce confusion and is already used by the oil and gas industry for the waters.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said at a regular news briefing that the "so-called change of name makes no sense at all."
"We hope the relevant countries can work with China for the shared goal and jointly uphold the current hard-won sound situation in the South China Sea," he said.
China claims most of the South China Sea, putting it in dispute with many Southeast Asian nations, and has carried out extensive land reclamation and construction on reefs and atolls to bolster its claims.
Indonesia doesn't have a territorial dispute with China, but Beijing's nine-dash line, which signifies its claims, overlaps with Indonesia's internationally recognized exclusive economic zone extending from the Natuna islands.
"The map of Indonesia has clear coordinates, dates and data, and the government would not negotiate with other nations that make unconventional claims ... including those who insist on a map of nine broken lines," Oegroseno said.
A YEAR AFTER HAGUE ARBITRATION RULING, CHINA REMAINS DEFIANT
Filipino officials behind an arbitration case in which the Philippines won a resounding victory over China last year are expressing alarm that Beijing continues to defy the decision, in what they are calling a setback to the rule of law.
Last week, they urged President Rodrigo Duterte, who has indefinitely set aside the decision that invalidated China's sweeping historic claims in the South China Sea, to explore diplomatic and legal means by which to pressure China into complying.
Duterte has promised to take up the arbitration ruling with China before his six-year term ends in 2022, but is also courting China as an economic partner and possible security ally. His administration says his pragmatic outreach has calmed tensions, revived dialogue and reaped pledges of huge Chinese investments and other benefits.
"Despite its friendlier face, we do not see restraint in China's militarization and unlawful activity in the West Philippine Sea," said former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who spearheaded moves to bring the Philippines' disputes with China to international arbitration in 2013. He cited China's moves to fortify its seven man-made islands in the Spratly group with missile defense systems.
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said China is reneging on its treaty obligation because it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea under which the arbitration decision was based.
China last week marked the anniversary of the ruling with the relatively mild language it has adopted toward the Philippines in recent months. "With the joint efforts by China and the Philippines over the past year, the dispute has been brought back to the peaceful settlement through dialogue and consolation, and bilateral ties have improved overall," spokesman Geng Shuang said.
PHILIPPINES SEES TRADE BENEFITS IN LOW-KEY APPROACH TO DISPUTES WITH CHINA
Philippine Trade Minister Ramon Lopez has predicted faster growth of economic ties with China following Manila's decision to effectively shelve their territorial disputes.
Lopez said in an interview with Hong Kong's South China Morning Post last week that the Philippines' "realistic and practical" approach to those controversies would encourage Chinese trade and investment and help the country meet its ambitious economic growth target of 7-8 percent over the coming five years.
"I credit it to the wisdom of (Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte) to really be more realistic and practical, to consider the positive points of having a relationship with China renewed," Lopez told the newspaper.
"He has mentioned in many of his statements that, 'Why fight China when we can set aside the differences and focus on areas of cooperation, focus on how China and the Philippines can help in mutual growth?'" Lopez said.
Exports of Philippine bananas and mangos to China and Hong Kong grew by 34 percent in the first five months of this year following the lifting of Chinese restrictions, he said, much higher than the 14 percent rate for the rest of the world.
Lopez said he also backed allowing Chinese to visit for a week visa-free as a further boost to business ties.
"If you want to explore business opportunities and therefore you want to visit the Philippines and meet the people, that is something we can look at," he said.
The Philippines has become "much safer" to do business in since Duterte launched his bloody war on drug dealers and addicts, with the crime rate dropping 53 percent over the past year, Lopez said. Some 5,000 suspects have died so far in the campaign, and human rights group have called for an independent investigation into Duterte's possible role in the violence.
Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.