China Stakes Out China Sea Position For US Talks

Posted June 22nd, 2011 at 11:55 am (UTC-5)
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A senior Chinese official has warned the United States to stay out of the regional dispute over the South China Sea.

Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told foreign journalists in Beijing Wednesday that because the U.S. is not one of the states claiming territory in the South China Sea, it should “counsel restraint to those countries” that have taken what he called provocative actions. Cui also denied that China had any responsibility for recent tensions with Vietnam and the Philippines in disputed waters.

The Chinese official said other countries in the dispute are “playing with fire,” and he hoped “the fire would not be drawn” to the U.S.

Chinese media have reported that Cui will travel to Hawaii for talks on Saturday with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. Cui told Chinese journalists that the maritime dispute is not on the agenda, but if the U.S. brings it up, he will explain that the disturbing trends in the area “are not caused by China.”

Vietnam and the Philippines recently reported what they described as aggressive encounters with Chinese vessels in waters they claim as part of their exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea. Both countries have said they would welcome U.S. support in the disputes.

China and Taiwan claim all of the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel islands – chains of rocky outcroppings and uninhabited islets. Four other countries – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, also claim parts of the region and the islands.

China says it has taken legitimate action in areas under its sovereignty.

The South China Sea is a key shipping route and a rich fishing area. Natural gas and oil are believed to lie beneath it.

Disputes over the territory have flared periodically for decades. Last year, the United States declared it has a national interest in maintaining free navigation through the South China Sea. That infuriated China, which saw it as interference in its own sphere of influence.

Chinese media say Saturday's talks are a new consultation mechanism that follow a visit to Washington in January by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Cui said the talks will deal with the two countries' respective policies on the region. By getting a better understanding of each others' intentions, he said, they will be better able to deal with regional challenges together.

Cui also said that since Mr. Hu's visit to Washington, relations between the countries have entered “a new phase” in which both are committed to building a cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and benefit.

Also Wednesday, China released dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who had been detained since April. State media say he was freed after confessing to tax evasion, although his family and others have said the allegations were false.

The United States and many other governments had called for the internationally known artist to be released.