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News Analysis: U.S. interference in South China Sea dispute seeks to expand influence in Asian region

by Mahmoud Fouly, Abdel-Maguid Kamal

CAIRO, May 18 (Xinhua) -- The interference of the United States in the South China Sea territorial dispute between China and thePhilippines seeks to expand U.S. influence in the Asian Pacific Region through exercising pressure on Beijing, said Egyptian experts in Asian affairs.

Backed by the United States, the Philippines lodged a claim against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to resolve the dispute. The world's number one super power also urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states for unity on the anticipated court ruling.


The Filipino-Chinese maritime dispute comes amid U.S. deployment of an anti-missile defense system in South Korea that is seen by many experts as an American attempt to expand its influence in the region.

"Regrettably, such regional disputes represent an opportunity for outside parties to interfere, and this is the part the United States is awaiting to support its influence in the region by backing certain parties at the expense of others," said Mahmoud Allam, former Egyptian ambassador to China.

The ex-diplomat noted that the relation between the United States and the Philippines is well-known, as the later once was almost a U.S. colony and is considered one of the regional spots of U.S. influence.

"I believe there are mechanisms in the Southeast Asia region that can try to reach satisfactory settlements for disputes without interference of non-claimant parties," Allam told Xinhua.

Nasser Abdel-Aal, expert in Asian affairs and professor of Chinese studies at Cairo-based Ain Shams University, described the U.S. interference in the issue as "provocative," arguing it is not in favor of the South China Sea region's stability.

"The United States seeks to preserve a footstep in each spot in the world, as it does in the Middle East region, and it wants to be a thorn in China's side by backing the Philippines and Taiwan in the Asian region," the professor told Xinhua.

Abdel-Aal stressed that non-interference in other countries' domestic affairs is one of China's basic foreign policy principles and in turn China does not accept U.S. intervention in the maritime issue that it considers a Chinese domestic affair.

"Still, China's commercial, economic and even scientific relations with the United States are indispensible, yet the United States uses the South China Sea issue as a pressure card to achieve interests," he argued.


While Manila referred the dispute to an international arbitration court, Beijing expressed rejection of the unilateral move and said it would not abide by the court ruling as it did not approve the arbitration in the first place.

"Arbitration seeks the agreement of the concerned parties as a prerequisite," said Allam, the former Egyptian ambassador to China, stressing that the two parties should agree first on the principle of arbitration and on which arbitration authority to resort to.

"I believe that the position of the Philippines is an attempt to pressure China or to get some concessions from the Chinese side, but I don't think it may lead to any confrontation, which China is keen to avoid," Allam added.

The same opinion was echoed by Yasser Gadallah, director of the Chinese-Egyptian Research Center at Helwan University, who said that the Philippines' resort to arbitration requires China's approval.

"Arbitration requires the consent of the two concerned parties that resort together to an international arbitration committee whose decisions are binding for both of them," the expert told Xinhua.

Gadallah argued that the expected court order will not be binding for China as it did not approve the unilateral move in the first place. "The Filipino move is a sort of pressure to internationalize the dispute in order to get some Chinese compromise regarding its demands," he added.


A 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) signed by China and the 10-member ASEAN countries including the Philippines states that all parties should resolve their disputes peacefully and avoid any move that would complicate or escalate the situation.

"I believe that the agreed-upon pact between China and the ASEAN countries can represent a suitable framework to resolve the Filipino-Chinese territorial dispute," said ex-ambassador Allam, noting that Beijing's general policy tends to deal with its regional disputes through settlement and negotiation.

Earlier in April, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin urged the ASEAN members to reaffirm their commitment to the DOC that has not been fully implemented.

The Philippines' pursuit of international arbitration tribunal to resolve the issue is seen by some experts as violation of the signed pact as well as a waste of a chance offered by China for cooperation to resolve the dispute through dialogue and consultation.

A columnist at a Filipino newspaper, Rod Kapunan, said in an article earlier in May that the Philippines' move deprives the country "of the opportunity once offered to us by China, like a joint cooperation to explore ... and to develop the areas," arguing that any arbitration court order "could only justify the permanent presence of U.S. forces in the Philippines territory."


In an obvious reference to the United States, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier in late April that "outside parties" should not interfere in the South China Sea issue, stressing it should be peacefully resolved through political means such as negotiations between the directly-concerned parties.

"The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and international laws, including the agreements reached between China and ASEAN, are the legal frameworks that should be followed," said Lavrov.

The Arab position also sounded supportive to China as seen in the recent China-Arab Cooperation Forum held in Doha, Qatar's capital city, where Arabs praised China's efforts to peacefully resolve territorial and maritime disputes with its neighbors through dialogue and negotiation.

"I believe the Arabs and China exchange positions, as China's position on conflicts in the Middle East region is also based on dialogue, peaceful settlement and avoidance of confrontations," said ex-diplomat Allam.

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