Be cautious, China urges the US
Beijing says it will protect its territory after the Trump administration’s threats over maritime disputes
China called on the United States on Jan 24 to respect facts and “speak and behave with caution” after the new US administration of President Donald Trump hinted it would take a tougher stance on the South China Sea.
“China’s determination to protect its own territory and sovereignty will remain unchanged, regardless of what other countries say or what changes occur,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a news conference in Beijing.
China will firmly safeguard its maritime sovereignty, as it holds talks with countries directly involved, to maintain stability in the region, she said. Hua had been asked to respond to White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s comment on Jan 23 that “the US would make sure that we protect our interests” in the South China Sea.
On Jan 11, Trump’s secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson said that China should be denied access to the South China Sea islands.
Hua, when asked whether China worried that the Trump administration would take further steps regarding the sea, said that China is not the only country concerned about that.
“China’s position on the South China Sea is consistent, and our actions are justified,” she said.
Tensions have cooled over the South China Sea issue since China and other countries involved, including the Philippines, agreed to peacefully solve disputes through negotiations.
In October, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made a state visit to China, during which the two nations agreed to restore bilateral ties that had been jeopardized by the ruling of an arbitration unilaterally launched by his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
“Any responsible country should be glad to see this trend, and play a positive role in promoting regional peace and stability,” Hua said on Jan 24.
Li Haidong, a professor of US studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said the Trump administration’s attitude toward the South China Sea is similar to his predecessor’s — namely, emphasizing disputes there.
“While Obama dealt with it in so-called multilateral and legal ways, Trump might try to get rough and try to overwhelm China with force there,” he said. The South China Sea will continue to be an increasingly disputed area between the two countries, he speculated.
However, Li said, it remained to be seen whether Washington would follow up on Tillerson’s proposal because of “Trump’s unpredictability and the different opinions within the Cabinet”.
“The Trump administration might make an adjustment, adopt a more practical China policy after six months, when it sees it has failed to force China to concede to its aggressive manner regarding issues Washington believes are critical,” he added.
Teng Jianqun, a senior US studies researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, said the Trump administration will continue to test China on various issues, including trade and security, but China will never compromise on territorial issues. Wang Qingyun contributed to this story.