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State-controlled media in China recently reported that the government is trying to reach an agreement with other nations on operations in the South China Sea.

Such a deal could reduce tensions in the area. However, talks on the agreement have been going on for more than ten years, with little progress.

The official China Daily reported that Chinese diplomats and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reached agreement on some issues. The publication said they agreed to create a communications system for sea-based emergencies. It also reported that a temporary agreement on South China Sea operations would be written by the middle of next year. If a final agreement is reached, all the nations that sign it would have to obey international laws.

Some experts do not believe a deal will be reached. They note that China has increased its activity in the area since July. At that time, a United Nations-supported court dismissed most of China’s claims that a large part of the Sea is its territory.

China has sent large ships close to disputed islands in the South China Sea. Satellite pictures that have been seen by experts show new buildings that can house fighter jets on some of the islands.

Harry Kazianis is an expert on defense policy at the Center for the National Interest, in Washington. He recently spoke on VOA’s Asia Weekly podcast.

“I think what they're trying to achieve is, is basically just to show their anger with the recent ruling that was in the Court of Arbitration in The Hague. And I think we have to break this down in terms of two sets of reactions: The first set of reactions is basically from what happened, what’s happened from July and basically what’s gonna happen until early September.”

That is when the group of nations known as the G20 holds a meeting in China.

Kazianis says he believes China will not change its behavior.

Greg Poling is an expert on maritime issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington. He says China’s long-term goal is to control the area.

Poling says in 2014 China changed its behavior. He said before that time China had been pressuring its neighbors, including Vietnam and the Philippines. But, he says, “in 2014 all of a sudden, we had Chinese artificial islands cropping up where previously there had only been submerged rocks (and) reefs.” Poling says this island-building changed the balance of power in a basic way.

The United States does not accept China’s claims to territory in the South China Sea. U.S. planes and ships have been patrolling near the islands, ignoring warnings from Chinese military officials in the area. China says foreign ships are illegally sailing in its waters. But the United States says they are international waters.

The U.S. Defense Department says China is making a lot of claims aimed at trying to limit the ability of foreign ships to move freely.

Poling says the United States and its allies must decide whether they are willing to challenge China if it continues to try to control large areas of the South China Sea.

“If China is absolutely committed to this strategy -- no matter the diplomatic costs -- then it’s hard to see what the international community or those most involved -- like the U. S. and Japan -- can do."

Poling says ideas that could be considered include trying to stop China by force. But he says a longer-term plan might be to tell the world what Beijing is doing in the hope that China’s leaders will understand that their behavior is hurting their own interests.

Poling says it is important to understand that the dispute may go on for many years, and that diplomatic pressure may be “the only tool you have.”

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Correspondent Steve Miller reported this story from Washington. It was adapted for Learning English by Christopher Jones-Cruise. Pete Heinlein and Mario Ritter were the editors.

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Words in This Story

maritime – adj. of or relating to sailing on the sea or doing business (such as trading) by sea

artificial – adj. not happening or existing naturally; created or caused by people

submerged – adj. under water

crop up – phrasal verb to come or appear when not expected

strategy – n. a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time

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