Park appeals to Beijing on South China Sea

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Park appeals to Beijing on South China Sea

President Park Geun-hye called on China Sunday to peacefully cooperate with neighboring countries in resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea, noting during the annual East Asia Summit (EAS) that the issue is of “grave concern” to Seoul’s global trading.

On a final leg of a three-nation tour, Park stressed that more than 90 percent of Korea’s crude oil imports and 30 percent of total trade bypass the area’s strategic waterways, and warned Beijing to abide by the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Signed in 2002 by China and 11 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the agreement promises to “enhance favorable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution of differences and disputes among countries concerned.”

“Korea has consistently stressed that the dispute must be peacefully resolved according to international agreements and code of conduct,” a Blue House official quoted Park as saying at the convention in Malaysia. “China must guarantee the right of free navigation and flight.”

The president’s comments were made during the 10th EAS at which 18 leaders from the East Asia region and adjoining countries convened for discussions about growth and trade.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took a tougher stance on the issue, lashing out at the Chinese government for building military facilities in the area and claiming islands.

Xinhua News Agency reported that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang raised a five-part proposal to uphold and promote peace and stability in the South China Sea, calling on countries outside the region to “refrain from taking actions” that may increase tension in the region.

Seoul has been careful not to take sides on the sensitive issue and maintain a delicate balance between the two superpowers. Park’s remarks over the weekend was an apparent sign that Korea was taking a step closer to supporting Washington, which recently announced $250 million worth of military aid to several countries standing up to China.

BY SHIN YONG-HO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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