In an usual move directly citing a policy disagreement with China, the United States weighed in Friday on a recent decision by the Communist nation to place a naval garrison in a disputed area of the South China Sea. The State Department urged restraint by all sides, while calling the move by China unhelpful to diplomatic efforts in the region.
"We are concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and are monitoring the situation closely," State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Peter Ventrell said in a statement Friday.
"In particular, China's upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha City and establishment of a new military garrison there covering disputed areas of the South China Sea run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region."
China announced last week it was establishing the minute city of Sansha in a disputed region of the Paracel island chain also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. After receiving complaints from the two Southeast Asian neighbors, China reiterated it was against outside meddling on the matter.
"We are willing to reiterate that the establishment of the city of Sansha is a readjustment by the Chinese government to existing administrative bodies, which is an issue within China's sovereignty," the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman's office told official news agency Xinhua on July 26.
"The Chinese side will continue to be committed to seeking appropriate solutions through bilateral negotiations and consultations with the parties directly involved in the concerned disputes," it added, making a tacit reference to U.S. involvement in the region.
China's Ministry of Defense Spokesman Geng Yansheng also reiterated this point on July 31, saying "the system was established to maintain the country's territorial sovereignty and safeguard its maritime rights, and it is not targeting any other country or specific goals," according to Xinhua.
China has repeatedly accused the United States of attempting to hedge their military and cultural growth in the region. The United States unveiled its "pivot to Asia" policy last year, which will see much of the country's naval assets shifted to the South and East China Seas.
The U.S. is also focusing in the region more diplomatically, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other diplomats becoming more engaged with Southeast Asian allies, partners and organizations like ASEAN.
The U.S. has denied their strategy is based on hedging China. Speaking at the Asia Society in New York on Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carton said the pivot strategy "is not about any single country or group of countries. It is not about China or the United States. It's about a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where sovereign states can enjoy the benefit of security and continue to prosper."
"We seek to strengthen our very important relationship with China, and believe that China is key to developing a peaceful, prosperous and secure Asia-Pacific region," he added.
Last month at the ASEAN foreign minister's meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Clinton urged China to sign onto an international Code of Conduct (COC) agreement for the South China Sea. But China's refused, while leaving open the possibility to accept the COC by saying they were willing to discuss it further in the future.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam all have overlapping claims in the sea with China. Clashes have been particularly violent in recent months between China and the latter two Southeast Asian nations, who claim China is ramping up tensions in the waters.
by RTT Staff Writer
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