China rejects US involvement in South China Sea disputes

China soundly rejected a US Senate resolution criticizing its actions in the South China Sea and calling for multilateral negotiations, saying the regional dispute is not a matter for the US.

Romeo Ranoco/Reuters
Protesters release doves during a peace rally in front of the Chinese consulate building in Makati's financial district of Manila, Philippines, on June 28. The protesters on Tuesday called for a negotiated political settlement of the Spratly Islands. Philippines and China are among the six states claiming wholly or parts of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

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China has rejected a US Senate resolution criticizing China for its "use of force" during confrontations with other countries on the South China Sea (see map), insisting that the disputes are solely between countries in the region and are not the business of the United States.

The disputes should be resolved through "direct negotiations with the countries involved," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said today, according to Xinhua. "Freedom of shipping in the South China Sea has never been affected by the disputes, and there has never been such a problem."

"Others without a direct stake should respect the efforts made by those directly concerned to resolve South China Sea disputes through dialogue and in a peaceful manner," he also said, according to the Associated Press. US Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia, the resolution author, said that the US has a "strategic interest" in facilitating multilateral negotiations.

China claims it has "indisputable sovereignty" over the entire South China Sea. But recently, the Philippines has accused China of entering its waters multiple times, and Vietnam has accused China of limiting its oil exploration efforts in a part of the sea that Vietnam claims as its economic exclusive zone. Malaysia and Brunei are also occasionally dragged into the disputes.

The US resolution was prompted by the concerns of several countries in the region about China's "pattern of intimidation" in the sea, Senator Webb said, according to The Hill.

China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, the Philippines, and Brunei have squabbled over jurisdiction in the South China Sea for decades, but the stakes are now higher because of China's growing geopolitical importance and because the US is ignoring Chinese protests that it is interfering in the area, writes Elizabeth Economy in a blog post for the Council on Foreign Relations.

What’s different now, however, is the context in which these conflicts are playing out. And this matters – a lot. As its naval capacity has increased, China has made clear its intent to expand its range of activity throughout the region. Having formally shifted policy from a “near seas” to a” far coastal” defense, China has in effect declared itself a regional and emerging global naval power.

In mid-June, it sent a 3,000 ton Haixun-31 ship through the South China Sea to “monitor shipping, carry out surveying, inspect oil wells and protect maritime security.” In response to China’s increasing activism, regional nations have invited the United States to enter directly into the fray. The U.S. is formally obligated to defend or provide for the defense of the Philippines and Taiwan; and military relations with Vietnam have been expanding rapidly.

The Chinese have been quick to denounce any interference by the United States; however, the United States shows little inclination to listen, consulting with the parties, and clearly asserting U.S. national interest in freedom of navigation and respect for international law.

The Spratly Islands dispute – both China and Vietnam claim the resource-rich islands, which are also home to important shipping lanes – is driving a wedge between the former Communist allies and pushing Vietnam toward the US.

"Although Vietnamese acknowledge that relations with China will be increasingly important – and economically beneficial – as time goes on, they find China's perceived naval bullying hard to stomach," The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month.

Meanwhile, more than 1,200 US and Philippine Navy personnel began military exercises today near the islands, which the Philippines also claim as theirs, the AP reported. However, Philippines Navy spokesman Lt. Noel Cadigal said that the exercises are an annual occurrence and were planned before the Spratly Island dispute.


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