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Terrorism & Security

South China Sea deal eases US-China tension

China acquiesced to a draft agreement on the South China Sea dispute ahead of Secretary of State Clinton's arrival at an ASEAN summit last night – perhaps to block US 'meddling' in talks.

By Staff writer / July 22, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, walks to a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Ministerial Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, July 22.

Saul Loeb/AP

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today praised China and the regional bloc ASEAN for reaching a draft agreement this week to ease tensions in the disputed South China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over the entire sea, but the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia also claim parts of it as their own. A third of the world's shipping passes through this body of water, which is also rich in oil and natural gas, the Associated Press reports.

China, which has been accused of trying to intimidate the Philippines and Vietnam into stopping their oil exploration in the sea, has long resisted signing any agreement that would require that disputes be resolved peacefully until now. China's acquiescence to the draft agreement – which ends more than a decade of deadlock and brings the countries closer to a final, legally binding code of conduct – was likely spurred by a desire to get the issue off the table before Clinton's arrival Thursday night at the ASEAN summit in Bali, Reuters reports.

At last year's meeting, Secretary Clinton announced that the US considered the South China Sea dispute a national security issue because of its obligation to guarantee freedom of navigation, according to AP. The US has since held joint naval drills in the area with both the Philippines and Vietnam, CNN reports.

But China says the disputes are bilateral ones and perceives US involvement in the dispute as meddling and provocative. An editorial in China Daily today says that the dispute has been "heating up" since least year's ASEAN summit.

Obviously, the legally binding code of conduct is targeted against China. The United States, the world's only superpower, has long been actively interfering in the South China Sea territorial dispute. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced publicly at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting last year that the South China Sea dispute was related to US national interests. The dispute has been heating up since then. …

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