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Chinese FM begins SE Asia tour as South China Sea tensions flare


SINGAPORE, Singapore, August 12 ------ China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Singapore at the start of a three-nation regional tour, Beijing's embassy in the city-state said, as tensions flare with the Philippines in the South China Sea. His three-day trip, after returning to the post last month following the unexplained disappearance of predecessor Qin Gang, also includes Malaysia and Cambodia.


A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy confirmed to AFP on Thursday morning that Beijing's top diplomat had arrived in the financial hub. "China hopes to strengthen strategic communication with the three Southeast Asian countries through this visit," China's foreign ministry said when it announced the trip on Wednesday.


Wang will visit until Friday and hold separate meetings with his counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's government said. His visit comes after Beijing and Manila clashed at the weekend when the Philippines accused Chinese Coast Guard vessels of blocking and firing water cannon at its boats on a resupply mission to Filipino marines stationed on a World-War-II-era ship.


China has since insisted the Philippine navy vessel grounded on a reef in the Spratly Islands be removed from the hotly contested waters that have long been a flashpoint between the two.


Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines are all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is in talks with China over a code of conduct in the sea that Beijing claims as almost entirely its own. Other ASEAN members Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei all claim parts of the sea, too. Singapore has for decades juggled ties with China and the US as their rivalry grows across the Asia-Pacific region.


Wang will travel to Malaysia on Friday where Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said he will meet with Beijing's envoy in the northern state of Penang, Malaysia's Star newspaper reported. Anwar is on the campaign trail ahead of local elections on Saturday in six states. Wang will finish his trip in Cambodia, which has become one of China's strongest allies in the region under the rule of outgoing ruler Hun Sen, receiving huge sums of Chinese investment.


Source: philstar.com

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