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Malaysia urges ASEAN to unite over South China Sea
by Staff Writers
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (AFP) Aug 12, 2012

Pro-China activists depart for disputed islands
Hong Kong (AFP) Aug 12, 2012 - A group of pro-China activists from Hong Kong and Macau set sail Sunday for a chain of East China Sea islands at the centre of a simmering territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing.

The group of 14 activists left for the disputed islands -- known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese -- on a Chinese-flagged fishing boat from Hong Kong.

The activists, who belong to a group called the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, will be joined at sea by two other vessels on Tuesday -- from Taiwan and Xiamen city in southern China.

"We are protesting Japanese lawmakers' plan to land on the islands on August 19," said Chan Miu-tak, the group's chairman.

"We want to reach the islands before the Japanese lawmakers and place the Chinese flag there to show our determination to safeguard China's sovereignty over the islands," he told AFP.

A group of lawmakers from Japan have said they plan to visit the disputed islands next weekend.

Chan said the vessels are expected to reach the disputed islands on Wednesday if they are not turned back by authorities.

The pro-China group has made repeated attempts to reach the islands, but apart from one successful foray in 1996 they have been blocked by Japanese patrol vessels.

China and Japan have a lengthy dispute over the uninhabited but strategically coveted island chain, which is also claimed by Taiwan.

The move came after South Korea's President Lee Myung-Bak paid a surprise visit on Friday to islands at the centre of a decades-old territorial row with Japan, which recalled its ambassador from Seoul in protest.

Malaysia's foreign minister urged Southeast Asian countries on Sunday to settle their overlapping claims in the South China Sea before bringing them up with Beijing.

Anifah Aman's comments, following an hour-long meeting with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, imply that Malaysia wants ASEAN to present a more united front against an increasingly assertive China.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have overlapping claims in the resource-rich sea, as does Taiwan.

China claims sovereignty over almost all of it.

Anifah said a repeat of confrontation, such as a June standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships over Scarborough Shoal, should be avoided.

"We are confident we can resolve this matter. China is also earnest in its desire in finding solutions... This issue can be settled through peaceful means," he told reporters.

"There are overlapping claims by member countries. Let us discuss these among ASEAN countries first before we talk to China," he added.

"We can only achieve this objective in the South China Sea if all parties agree. Then China can appreciate this and realise it is ASEAN's wish."

Anifah did not give any time frame for such an ASEAN meeting.

ASEAN foreign ministers failed to move ahead on the South China Sea issue at a regional ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh in July. The dispute prevented ASEAN from producing a joint communique for the first time in the bloc's 45-year history.

China's foreign minister, who met Malaysia's prime minister on Saturday, did not attend a press conference with Anifah but told reporters that China "firmly" supported ASEAN community building.

"We firmly support the idea continuously that ASEAN is in the driver's seat in terms of East Asian cooperation," he said. "We agreed that we will continue to work together in cooperation and accommodating each other's concerns and interests."

Anifah said that ASEAN and China should work toward "the early conclusion" of a long-stalled regional code of conduct designed to reduce tensions over fishing, shipping rights and oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.


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