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Trump offers to 'mediate' on South China Sea disputes

13 November 2017

"We have to be friends, the other hotheads would like us to confront China and the rest of the world on so many issues", Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in the Philippines capital, Manila, on Sunday.

Duterte took steps to thaw frosty relations with China after he won the presidency past year.

The resource-rich disputed waters of the South China Sea have always been a bone of contention between the regional players - China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Ahead of the annual summit of the ASEAN, an influential grouping of 10 South East Asian countries, a number of diplomats said the thorny issue of China's aggressive military buildup in the South China Sea may be one of the focus areas of the deliberations on Tuesday.

The US conducts freedom of navigation exercises through the South China Sea. "They will not talk about it", Duterte said of China.

China and Vietnam need to "stay committed to seeking a fundamental and durable solution to their maritime issues acceptable to both sides through friendly consultation", Xi said in an article published by the state-run Xinhua news agency Thursday - before Xi's arrival in Vietnam.

Vietnam and the USA have grown increasingly close in recent years as both countries fear Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea.

Tensions in the contested waters have ratcheted up since 2014 as China has turned sandbars into islands, equipping them with airfields, ports and weapons systems and warned U.S. warships and aircraft to stay away from them.

Finalising the COC has become urgent following a series of skirmishes between China and its smaller South-east Asian neighbours with competing claims to the waters, like the Philippines and Vietnam.

He said that Trump and Xi had discussed ways to "prevent mishaps, misunderstandings and miscalculations" in the vital seaway. "The South China Sea, Taiwan, the East China Sea". At $32 billion a year ago, it was the sixth largest with the United States, though less than a tenth the size of China's. The US and Chinese militaries have had frequent standoffs in the area, with Beijing accusing the US of damaging China's sovereignty and security interests. The South China Sea will likely be a hot topic throughout the summit, as most claimants will be attending.

Since coming to office 16 months ago, the firebrand leader has been conciliatory to Beijing, despite a ruling by an worldwide arbitration court favoring the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China.

Trump offers to 'mediate' on South China Sea disputes