Monday, 11 July 2011

Don't meddle in South China Sea dispute, Beijing warns US

Taking strong exception to US navy''s proactive presence in the oil rich South China Sea, China which is grappling to resolve maritime disputes with several ASEAN countries today asked it to stay out of the region.

"It''s not a proper time for the US to conduct military drills in the region with the Philippines and Vietnam," Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People''s Liberation Army (PLA) said.

Chen made direct reference to US navy''s recent war games with the militaries of the two countries which raised strong objections to China''s claims of sovereignty over the oil rich disputed islands.

Beijing has warned other countries to stay out of the South China Sea dispute -- but insists it will not use force in its standoff with Vietnam.

With tensions rising in the South China Sea, Beijing has warned other countries not to meddle in its standoff with Hanoi while saying China will not use force to address the problem.

"The recent situation in the South China Sea was due to unilateral actions taken by some countries, which damaged China's sovereignty and marine interests. These countries made groundless and irresponsible remarks in an attempt to expand and complicate the South China Sea issue. That is the cause of the problem," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday (Jun. 14).

"China is committed to a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea issue through bilateral dialogues and consultations with related parties. We will not resort to the use of force or the threat of force," he said. "China is safeguarding its own legitimate rights, not infringing upon others."

Beijing's statement followed Vietnam's live-fire drill in the South China Sea on Monday.

"This is the most serious [situation] ever in terms of bilateral relations since 1991 when countries agreed to put past issues aside and start to build good relations," said David Koh, a Vietnam expert at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, according to the US-based National Public Radio (NPR).

Hanoi accused a Chinese patrol boat of cutting the cable of a Vietnamese boat which was conducting seismic research about 120 nautical miles off Vietnam's central coast on May 26. Hundreds of Vietnamese people on June 5 and 12 gathered in Hanoi to protest outside the Chinese embassy. Vietnam held a live-fire naval drill Monday (Jun. 13) in the disputed area where China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have sovereignty claims.

China's foreign ministry said Chinese fishing boats were chased away by armed Vietnamese ships while near the Nansha (Spratly) Islands in the South China Sea and called for a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year said the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is a national interest of the US, a statement which angered Beijing. The South China Sea and Strait of Malacca is a vital international shipping route.

The United States has sent the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington from its home port of Yokosuka in Japan to patrol the western Pacific, including the South China Sea.

US Senator Jim Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, on Monday urged Congress to pressure China over the issue, saying, "I think we in our government have taken too weak of a position on this. We should be working in a multilateral forum to solve these problems," according to Agence France-Presse.

The Philippines announced Monday that it has started to use the name "West Philippine Sea" to refer to the South China Sea to assert its own territorial claims in the area.

The Liberation Army Daily, the newspaper of China's armed forces, meanwhile warned "unrelated" countries to back off from weighing in on the dispute. "China resolutely opposes any country unrelated to the South China Sea issue meddling in disputes and it opposes the internationalization of the South China Sea issue," the newspaper said.

"The US seems to have sketched out vague security guarantees for countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Washington therefore is able to further flare up conflicts in the South China Sea so as to counter China," Ji Qiufeng, a professor at the School of Foreign Relations at Nanjing University, told Global Times, a state-run Chinese daily noted for its nationalistic editorial line.

Chen''s comments came as Mullen chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, asserted that US is a Pacific power and would remain so.Mullen in his address to the Renmin University yesterday has declared that Washington''s enduring presence in the Asia-Pacific Region is important and it will continue to be so."This means China has to deal with the reality of growing US involvement in the region in the long run.

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