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Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea

Associated Press Associated Press 14/11/2016 By HRVOJE HRANJSKI, Associated Press

BANGKOK — 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 oil and gas 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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TRUMP'S ADVISER SAYS U.S. WILL CONTINUE TO KEEP CHINA IN CHECK

President-elect Donald Trump still hasn't made his foreign policy objectives clear, but his senior adviser on national security says the U.S. won't abandon its Asian allies to China's "overreach."

James Woolsey, in an opinion piece published in the South China Morning Post on Thursday, said the new administration would need to reverse defense budget cuts and make sure the U.S. was still the leading military force in the world.

"The U.S. sees itself as the holder of the balance of power in Asia and is likely to remain quite determined to protect its allies against Chinese overreach," said Woolsey, who served as CIA director under President Bill Clinton. "China should realize that our reflexes in Asia are not driven by territorial ambitions."

Over U.S. objections, Beijing has moved to cement its claim to most of the South China Sea, including by building artificial islands and military airstrips atop coral reefs. With Trump's election, many analysts said Trump's isolationist foreign policy will give China more maneuvering room to pursue its territorial claims in the East and South China seas.

During the election campaign, Trump in April said that China's building of man-made islands in the disputed waters was a sign of Beijing's disrespect for America.

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NEW PHILIPPINE ENVOY TO CHINA SAYS DEAL POSSIBLE

The new Philippine ambassador to China says it's possible to achieve a settlement with Beijing in the disputed South China Sea.

Jose Santiago "Chito" Santa Romana says his country could learn from Vietnam and the former Soviet Union, which managed to reach a detente with China through good political relations and quiet diplomacy despite quarrels over territory.

Vietnam, however, continues to be entangled in the dispute over the Paracel Islands while making progress with China over other border issues.

"The basic lesson is, if you use hardball tactics with China, expect the same. ... So when you say, 'What is ours is ours,' they will say the same thing. And if you don't yield, and if you combine it with just megaphone diplomacy and forcing your way, expect that there'll be a stalemate," he said at a forum in Manila organized by the state-run China Daily.

He said the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte is separating the disputes from economic relations with Beijing.

Duterte's groundbreaking visit to Beijing resulted in China allowing Filipino fishermen back in the waters around the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which China seized from the Philippines in 2012, a year before Manila launched and won an international arbitration case against China's claims.

However, China's coast guard has remained at the shoal and Filipinos are not allowed to fish inside the lagoon.

Santa Romana said that Scarborough was just an "informal, friendly understanding," and there is a need to slowly formalize it and establish rules of engagement between the coast guards of the countries.

"The Chinese, of course, still maintains their effective control because they have a sovereignty claim," he said. "But now the Philippine coast guard is trying to have a roving presence so that, eventually, we could say we have not given up our sovereignty claim when we resolve it diplomatically."

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CHINA SAYS SOUTH CHINA SEA HAS STABILIZED

China says tensions in the South China Sea have eased because of "friendly cooperation" with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang says managing differences through negotiations is "is back on the right track," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Lu noted that China has border treaties with 12 out of its 14 land neighbors, and that as long as they are "sincere and patient, most differences can be handled through consultation and negotiation."

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Follow Hrvoje Hranjski at www.twitter.com/hatbangkok

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