China Pledges Not to Use Force in China Sea Dispute

Posted June 14th, 2011 at 6:35 am (UTC-5)
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China said Tuesday it will not use force in disputes with its neighbors over the South China Sea, but delivered an implied rebuke to U.S. senators who say the U.S. military should safeguard navigation in the strategic waterway.

At a regular press briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China will not “resort to force or threat of force” in its simmering territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines.

But Hong said some countries have released “groundless and irresponsible remarks” in an attempt to expand the disputes. He said countries not related to the disputes should permit those that are involved to settle their problems directly.

That appeared to be a response to legislation introduced in Washington Monday by the two top senators on a panel that oversees American foreign policy in East Asia.

The bill from Jim Webb and James Inhofe accuses China of using force in the maritime disputes, and calls for the U.S. military to “assert and defend freedom of navigation rights” in the South China Sea.

Speaking earlier Monday at a policy seminar in Washington, Webb said he thought the United States has taken too weak a position on the disputes, which have been heating up for weeks.

Vietnam on Monday staged several hours of live-fire artillery drills in waters off its eastern coast, which are also being claimed by China. Vietnam also issued a decree saying who would be exempt from a military draft in case of war, and said earlier it would welcome U.S. support in the confrontation with China.

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 about the latest disputes involving China, Vietnam and the Philippines, calling merely for all parties to settle their differences peacefully. Vietnam said this week it would “welcome” greater efforts by the “international community” to help maintain peace and security in the area.

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.

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

China says it was acting legally in waters under its administration.