China ‘Firmly Opposed’ to Foreign Involvement in Maritime Disputes

Posted June 14th, 2011 at 9:30 am (UTC-5)
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China says it is “firmly opposed” to foreign involvement in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and is warning other Asian nations to refrain from “irresponsible” comments on their competing maritime claims in the region.

Tuesday's warning in the Liberation Army Daily newspaper comes as the Philippines made clear it would welcome U.S. help in enforcing international law in the disputes over the Paracel and Spratley islands – uninhabited islets thought to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves. It also comes less than a day after two U.S. senators introduced a congressional resolution that accuses Beijing of using force in the disputes and calls for the U.S. military to “assert and defend freedom of navigation rights” in the South China Sea.

The Liberation Army Daily report echoes comments from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which says some countries have made “groundless and irresponsible remarks” in an attempt to expand the disputes. A ministry spokesman said countries not related to the controversy should permit those that are involved to solve their problems directly. But he also said Beijing will not “resort to force or threat of force” to settle territorial disputes with Hanoi and Manila.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia claim all or part of the South China Sea, and the Spratly Islands. China, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim the Paracels.

Vietnam on Monday staged several hours of live-fire artillery drills in waters off its eastern coast, which are also being claimed by China. Hanoi also issued a decree saying who would be exempt from a military draft in case of war and has said it would welcome all international efforts to resolve the dispute.

In Washington Monday, Senator Jim Webb, who co-authored the resolution and heads the the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, said the U.S. should make it clear it opposes use of force by Beijing.

The United States angered China last year when it joined several countries at a regional security summit in calling for a multilateral approach to solving disputes in the South China Sea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also declared a U.S. national interest in maintaining free navigation through the waterway.

However, Washington has said little else about the current tensions, instead calling merely for all parties to settle their differences peacefully.

Vietnam complained late last month that Chinese naval vessels cut an exploration cable trailing from an oil survey ship in waters Hanoi claims as its exclusive economic zone. In a second incident last week, a Chinese fishing boat interfered with another exploration cable. China said the second incident was an accident, but says both incidents took place in waters under its administration.

The Philippines accuses China of offloading building materials and erecting marker posts on islets Manila says are within its exclusive economic zone. It says the action violated an agreement negotiated with Southeast Asian nations in 2002.

China says it acted legally in waters under its administration. It says its claims to the South China Sea date back centuries.