Taiwan suggests setting aside South China Sea disputes and jointly exploring for resources

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou laid out a plan Tuesday to ease tensions in a vast, resource-rich Asian ocean where China has chafed against its neighbors by expanding islets with landfill to solidify its claims in the region.

Ma's initiative, announced Tuesday at an Asia-Pacific research forum in Taipei, calls for setting aside sovereignty disputes over the South China Sea and jointly exploring for resources. Taiwan is also prepared to join related dialogues and mechanisms for South China Sea cooperation, the president said.

Taiwan, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines claim all or parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer (1.4 million square-mile) South China Sea. The ocean ranges from Taiwan's southern tip southwest to Singapore.

In recent months China has made other claimants and their common ally the United States bristle by landfilling tiny islets, a way to extend its reach. The tropical sea is rich in oil, natural gas and fisheries. It also holds international marine shipping routes.

In a sign of recent tensions, Beijing filed a formal complaint with the United States this week after an American spy plane flew over one islet, and Japan has pledged to help Vietnam and the Philippines with defense as China's presence grows.

But other South China Sea claimants are unlikely to react openly to Taiwan's initiative as they lack diplomatic relations with Ma's government. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan itself and uses economic clout to bar other nations from exchanges that cast Taiwan as a nation.

In 2012 Ma proposed a peace initiative for settling disputes in the East China Sea, which is claimed by his government as well as China and Japan.