Southeast Asian foreign ministers visit China amid maritime tensions

Beijing, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- The foreign ministers of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines will be in China this week amid growing tensions in the South China Sea.

The ministers will travel to the country on an invitation by their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday.

Hua did not give more details about the visit amid criticism that Beijing has faced over its latest activities in the disputed waters.

On Tuesday, the Philippines lodged a fresh diplomatic protest with the Chinese embassy in Manila over the “swarming and threatening presence” of around 220 Chinese boats in the South China Sea and demanded their withdrawal.

On Mar.7, the Philippine navy captured images showing the boats, suspected to be manned by Chinese maritime militias, anchored at Whitsun Reef.

The reef is in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

Wang Yi will meet his Southeast Asian counterparts in China’s southeastern coastal city of Fujian.

It is to assuage the countries over Beijing’s movements, according to local media reports.

Another possible topic on the agenda could be the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the most comprehensive free trade agreement of the world, signed by 15 countries of the Asia-Pacific region in November after eight years of negotiation.

So far, only China has ratified the pact and has been waiting for the others to approve the deal.

The United States and its allies like Japan have warned China against its “coercions and aggressions” in the Asia-Pacific.

They especially underlined “destabilizing actions” in the region by the Chinese coast guards and “illegal claims” that clash with various countries in the disputed waters.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei claim parts of the strategic sea, which serves as a passage for 30 percent of the global trade and is home to 12 percent of the worldwide fish resources, apart from housing oil and gas reserves.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire area. EFE-EPA


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