China criticizes Philippines over South China Sea dispute
WASHINGTON — China on Thursday accused the US-allied Philippines of “political provocation” in seeking international arbitration over territorial claims in the South China Sea, driving home its intention to ignore the proceedings despite pressure from Washington.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the decision by Philippine leaders to lodge a case with a tribunal in The Hague was “irresponsible to the Filipino people and the future of the Philippines.”
China has refused to participate in the arbitration process, which it has denounced as illegitimate. A ruling is expected later this year, after the tribunal decided last October that it could hear the case.
Meanwhile in Beijing, China’s Defense Ministry said the commander of US forces in the Pacific had smeared China as part of an attempt to obtain additional defense funding from Congress, in the latest bout of verbal jousting accompanying rising tensions in the South China Sea.
Ministry spokesman Col. Wu Qian strongly criticized Adm. Harry Harris Jr.’s assertions before Congress that China was militarizing the economically and strategically vital waterway and seeking “hegemony” in East Asia. China adamantly denies such accusations and says Washington and its allies are responsible for raising tensions.
“I have noted that according to media reports, Adm. Harris made his remarks while seeking additional defense budget funds from Congress,” Wu told reporters at a monthly news briefing.
“We don’t interfere in your seeking defense budget funds, but you can’t carelessly smear China while asking for more money,” Wu said.
The Philippines initiated arbitration in early 2013 after Beijing refused to withdraw its ships from a disputed shoal under a US-brokered deal. It contends that China’s massive territorial claims in the strategic waters do not conform with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and should be declared invalid. The Philippines also asserts that some Chinese-occupied reefs and shoals do not generate, or create a claim to, territorial waters.
Wang blamed the Philippines for shutting the door to negotiations with China over their dispute and seeking arbitration without China’s consent.
He said China was prepared to negotiate “tomorrow.”
“We are neighbors just separated by a narrow body of water,” Wang told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. “We want to contribute to the Philippines’ economic development.”
Wang was in Washington this week for talks with his counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry.
China has conducted a massive program of land reclamation over the past two years in the South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Harris told Congress this week that China has constructed more than 3,000 acres (1,210 hectares) of artificial land there in little more than two years, compared with about 115 acres reclaimed by the other claimants in more than 45 years.
Wang said China has stopped reclaiming land but other countries are continuing.
Wang also said China’s military facilities on islands and reefs are needed for self-defense as other nations have already militarized surrounding shores. China also intends to build civilian infrastructure like weather stations and emergency harbors for ships in danger, he said, which would benefit the international community.
Despite China’s endorsement of the sovereign rights of nations, Wu, the Defense Ministry spokesman, reiterated China’s strong opposition to the potential deployment in South Korea of a defensive missile defense system against North Korea.
China says the system’s radar coverage would extend into China, harming its national security interests. Harris, in his Congressional testimony, had said it was “preposterous” that China would try to “wedge itself” between South Korea and the US over the issue.
The US and China have repeatedly traded accusations over who is responsible for the rising tensions, with Washington saying China’s island building project has disturbed the delicate balance between claimants. Beijing says continued activities by US military ships and planes near the man-made islands have sought to provoke a response from Beijing.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday rejected that notion.
“The reason these activities are getting noticed isn’t because the United States is doing something new,” Carter said during congressional testimony. “We’ve been sailing in the South China Sea — and will continue to sail wherever international law allows — for decades now. We’re not doing anything new.”
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