China proposes to jointly develop Spratly Islands

Nov 29, 1999 01:00 AM

If the dispute among Asian nations over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea cannot be resolved, the governments involved should instead jointly develop the archipelago, a Chinese spokesman said. The territorial dispute over the Spratlys, which are believed to lie in the middle of rich oil and national gas fields, has become a major irritant among several Asian governments.
"If the dispute cannot be resolved for the time being, we have put in a pragmatic response," Zhu Bangzao, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told. "Let's shelve the dispute and join to develop the islands." Five governments - China, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines - claim the islands. Zhu Bangzao spoke during a visit that Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji is making to Singapore.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman also reiterated Chinese claims to the islands during an evening news conference. He said the Spratlys "have always been Chinese territory from ancient times. China has undisputed sovereignty over the islands." The dispute was a major topic during the weekend summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The leaders of ASEAN proposed a "code of conduct" that was rebuffed by the Chinese.
"It is better for us to deal with it seriously and in real earnest and then after it is signed it will become a very valuable document," Zhu told after meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. The Chinese leader said the parties to the dispute have reached agreement on the bulk of the code. "However, some disagreements remain," he said through an interpreter.
At a dinner held in Zhu's honour, Goh said China's decision not to devalue its currency helped contain the impact of the Asian financial crisis. "China's good economic performance, and in particular, its decision not to devalue the renminbi, has helped contain the impact of the crisis and contributed to the region's economic recovery," Goh said.
China's expected entry into the World Trade Organisation also has been a major topicof conversation during the Chinese premier's travels. Zhu said membership in the WTO would bring China disadvantages as well as benefits. "Once we open up our markets it would force us to cope with the challenges arising from the opening up," he said.
Zhu arrived in Singapore for a three-day visit to discuss international and regional issues with leaders of Singapore, the richest country in Southeast Asia. This is Zhu's first visit to Singapore as premier.

Source: AP
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