By Mei Jingya, Sina English
The First Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum has recently closed in the Philippine capital city of Manila.
After the conclusion of the summit, Vietnam Deputy Foreign Minister Pham Quang Vinh revealed in a briefing that China pledged to offer 3 billion yuan (US$474.36 million) to set up a maritime cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Foreign media, beating over the old ground again, began to distort China’s goodwill gesture despite the fact that participants of the forum was not directed at the sensitive maritime disputes in the region.
The Washington Times accused China of buying ASEAN hospitality with the fund in an article published on its online edition Oct.10, 2012.
The article said China became the focus of all discussions for its maritime disputes with its neighbors at the first Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum held in Manila Oct. 3 to 4.
And as one of eight non-ASEAN members invited to the forum, China “fended off its awkward presence as public pinata by offering nearly $500 million to the ASEAN in an attempt to buy some hospitality”.
Guessing why China did not announce the fund itself, the article said highlighting the offer would draw too much attention to an attempt by Beijing at influence-buying and ignite a domestic outcry from Chinese public at home. That’s why the aid was announced by the Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Pham Quang Vinh at the news conference after the conclusion of the forum.
“The $474 million fund promised by China was given to ASEAN for “maritime cooperation” without the usual specifics associated with this sort of aid. There was no further explanation as to how the money will be spent and who will manage the money within the ASEAN,” Washington Times added.
It guessed that China, being estranged by many of its neighbors due to territorial disputes, is attempting to prevent all challengers to from forming a coalition against it.
Currently stuck in a dispute with Japan over Diaoyu Islands, China cannot afford getting involved in another standoff with some of the more belligerent challengers within the ASEAN, notably the Philippines and Vietnam, said the article.
And China’s nightmare with ASEAN is expected to set in because within two months, a Vietnamese official will start a three-year term as ASEAN secretary-general.
Regarding the fund China offers, domestic media recently disclosed that actually it is not a new aid.
As early as in Nov. 2011 when the 14th China-ASEAN summit was held in Bali, Indonesia, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said China will offer a 3 billion yuan maritime cooperation fund with ASEAN, which will be spent on ocean research, environmental protection, connectivity, navigation safety and rescue, fighting international crime and other areas.
As to the media hype surrounding China being focus of the forum, reports, citing participants of the meeting, said no member country directly brought up the sensitive topic of maritime tension because focusing on cooperation was a shared understanding. Even the thorny country the Philippines avoided topics of maritime disputes and called for cooperation at the very beginning.
Unlike previous ones, this year’s ASEAN expanded forum invited 8 other countries, including Asutralia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.
U.S. State Department officials took the opportunity to propose the forum be held annually, which received warm welcome from ASEAN member countries.
Analysts commented that this is the latest sign of Washington’s attempt to intervene in maritime disputes in the Asia Pacific.