US Navy visits China, Ramos leaves for South China Sea talks

AP News
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Posted: Aug 08, 2016 5:48 AM
US Navy visits China, Ramos leaves for South China Sea talks

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 gas and oil reserves:

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest key developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

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US NAVY VISITS QINGDAO IN FIRST PORT CALL SINCE ARBITRATION PANEL'S RULING

A U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer arrived in the northern Chinese port of Qingdao on Monday in the first visit by an American warship to the country since Beijing responded angrily to an arbitration panel's ruling that its expansive South China Sea maritime claims had no basis in law.

Arriving in the home port of China's northern fleet, the USS Benfold held a signal exercise with the Chinese navy. Cmdr. Justin L. Harts said the visit aimed to "build relationships" with counterparts from China, but referred questions on tensions in the South China Sea to Pacific Command in Hawaii.

China rejected last month's ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case initiated by the Philippines and has criticized the U.S. as encouraging Manila's actions.

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the U.S., Japan and Australia were "fanning the flames" of regional tensions after they released a joint statement urging China not to construct military outposts or reclaim land in the disputed waters.

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EX-PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT FLIES TO HONG KONG AHEAD OF FORMAL TALKS WITH CHINA

Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos flew to Hong Kong on Monday for talks aimed at rekindling ties with China that have been strained by long-seething disputes in the South China Sea.

Ramos said in a news conference at Manila's airport that he would act as an "ice breaker" and the warmer relations he wanted to forge could engender formal talks between China and the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte has designated Ramos as a special envoy to pave the way for negotiations with Beijing after an international arbitration tribunal invalidated China's expansive territorial claims in a case put forward by the Philippines.

"I am just the ice breaker, as they say, to rekindle, to warm up, again, our good, friendly, neighborly relations with China and that's all that I have to do," Ramos said.

Ramos, now 88, was president when China seized the disputed Mischief Reef in 1995, sparking protests from the Philippines. Amid the rift, then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin paid a visit to Manila in 1996 and in a memorable moment, both leaders danced and sang Western songs, including Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" while on a Manila Bay cruise, helping ease tensions.

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CHINA SAYS ITS MILITARY AIRCRAFT CONDUCTED SOUTH CHINA SEA PATROLS

China's air force said Saturday it had conducted a combat air patrol over disputed areas of the South China Sea to improve its fighting ability.

The air force didn't say when the exercises took place, but after the July 12 arbitration ruling, the air force had said such patrols would be "a regular practice."

Air force spokesman Senior Col. Shen Jinke said in an online statement that bombers and fighters, early warning aircraft and reconnaissance planes patrolled the airspace around the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal and surrounding areas.

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MARINE ARHAEOLOGIST REPORTS CHINESE COAST GUARD HARASSMENT

An Australian amateur marine archaeologist says the Chinese coast guard harassed him and his team while they were diving to a shipwreck off Borneo.

Farmer Hans Berekoven told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that while the Chinese ship did not directly intervene, it clearly was trying to make them leave.

"They were trying to push us out. When we arrived there and started diving, they would up-anchor and sort of circle around us, sometimes really close. It was a sort of gentle intimidation," Berekoven said.

The report said the location was the Luconia Breakers, a cluster of shoals and a tiny island about 84 nautical miles (135 kilometers) north of Borneo that lies inside Malaysia's exclusive economic zone. China also claims the area within its nine-dash maritime border that the Hague arbitration panel ruled invalid.

Berekoven also said the Chinese ship was causing major damage to the coral reef near where it was anchored.

"She's got a massive anchor chain. Every time the wind changes or the current changes that big anchor chain is just making a hell of a mess of that reef," he said.

Other reports of harassment appear to show China's determination to monopolize marine archaeology in the South China Sea, which is littered with the wrecks of ships of all nationalities. China has used archaeological finds to support its claim to have mapped and named the sea's features from ancient times and therefore to have a historical right to sovereignty.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed from Manila, Philippines.