BEIJING – A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest key developments in the South China Sea, home to several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
MALAYSIA'S NAJIB TO SEEK STRONGER TIES WITH CHINA DURING VISIT TO BEIJING
Following Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's recent visit to China, Malaysia's prime minister is the latest leader of a nation that claims territory in the South China Sea to travel to Beijing.
Najib Razak arrives in the Chinese capital on Tuesday for a six-day visit to the country whose claims to virtually the entire strategic waterbody overlaps with areas that Malaysia says belong to it.
Malaysia claims a swath of the South China Sea north of Borneo, along with islands and reefs, but has been relatively understated amid feuding among fellow claimants China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
In a Facebook message, Najib said he hoped his visit would strengthen Malaysia's ties with its largest trading partner, including on "regional and international issues."
The message did not specifically mention the South China Sea, although Najib recently said Malaysia would not compromise on its claims but wanted them to be hashed out through dialogue and peaceful negotiations. Countries in the region should avoid provocative acts that could create tension, anxiety and suspicion, he was quoted as telling the nation's Parliament. Peace and stability were of primary importance, he said.
Those comments suggest Najib will be as non-confrontational on the issue as Duterte was during his visit. In Beijing. Duterte repeatedly heaped praise on China and scorn on the United States, winning billions of dollars in deals to boost the Philippine economy and warm years of icy relations between Beijing and Manila.
Malaysian media reported that during his visit Najib will oversee the signing of more than 10 bilateral agreements, including ones on defense and economic cooperation.
PHILIPPINES SAYS CHINESE COAST GUARD STILL PRESENT AT DISPUTED SHOAL BUT NOT HARASSING FISHERMEN
The Philippine defense secretary says Philippine aerial surveillance showed Chinese coast guard ships were still present at disputed Scarborough Shoal, but they did not stop Filipinos from fishing there for the first time in years.
Delfin Lorenzana says the fishermen's return to the shoal, which China effectively seized in 2012, is "a most welcome development" because it restores their main livelihood.
China allowed access to the tiny, uninhabited shoal 123 nautical miles (228 kilometers) from the northern Philippines after President Rodrigo Duterte met with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders in Beijing. After his trip, Duterte announced without elaborating that Filipinos might be able to return to the shoal soon.
A Philippine navy plane spotted at least four Chinese coast guard ships around the shoal during a surveillance flight on Saturday, Lorenzana said, adding that an earlier report by the Philippine coast guard that the Chinese had left the area was incorrect.
It's unclear how long China will keep the shoal open to Filipinos or if any conditions were attached.
An international arbitration ruling in July invalidated Beijing's sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea. It said both Filipinos and Chinese can fish at the shoal, but China ignored it and continued to block and chase away Filipino fishermen until a few days ago.
PHILIPPINES' DUTERTE PROPOSES JOINT MILITARY DRILLS WITH JAPAN DURING TOKYO VISIT
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte proposed joint military exercises with Japan during his visit to Tokyo, while reiterating that he will not conduct drills with Americans in his presidency.
Duterte made the proposal during a visit to a coast guard unit to observe an exercise from one of the patrol vessels Japan pledged to provide the Philippines to upgrade Manila's maritime security capabilities, largely in response to China's strong assertions of its South China Sea maritime claims.
A statement released by the Philippine presidential palace said Duterte told reporters that he discussed a possibility of the joint exercises "in general terms" when he held talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last Wednesday. Duterte also reminded reporters that allowing the American military to stay in his country would be "difficult" and that he planned to review the military cooperation agreement and ask them "one of these days" to leave the country.
He did not elaborate on his comment on joint exercises with Japan, which could have mixed implications because Japan also has tensions with China over East China Sea islands, history and other issues.
KERRY SAYS US, VIETNAM SHARE COMMITMENT TO RULE OF LAW IN SOUTH CHINA SEA
Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.S. and Vietnam share a commitment to the rule of law in the South China Sea.
Kerry was speaking ahead of talks with a top official in Vietnam's ruling Communist Party, Executive Secretary Dinh The Huynh (din tay hwin).
The meeting came five months after President Barack Obama visited Vietnam and lifted restrictions on arms sales to the former U.S. enemy. It also takes place as longstanding U.S. ally in Southeast Asia, the Philippines, is strengthening ties with China.
Kerry said he and Huynh would also discuss human rights — still a sore point in U.S.-Vietnam relations.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.