Out­siders told to re­spect ter­ri­tory

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHANG YUNBI in Bei­jing and CHEN WEIHUA in Wash­ing­ton

With US sec­re­tary of state nom­i­nee Rex Tiller­son threat­en­ing to make trou­ble for China over the South China Sea, ob­servers said Bei­jing should con­tinue its buildup in the area and tighten re­la­tions with coun­tries in­volved in the area’s ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes.

China, which re­mains firm on its ter­ri­to­rial rights, also should ap­proach the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of US pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump through all avail­able chan­nels to con­trol differences and man­age any po­ten­tial crises, they said.

At a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing at the US Congress on Wed­nes­day, Tiller­son, the for­mer Exxon Mo­bil chair­man and CEO, said China’s ac­cess to the is­lands is “not go­ing to be al­lowed”, af­ter he was asked if he sup­ported a more ag­gres­sive pos­ture to­ward China.

In re­sponse, For­eign Min­istry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thurs­day that the ten­sion in the South China Sea “has cooled down”, and China and coun­tries in the area have re­turned to two-way talks.

It is hoped out­siders to the re­gion will “re­spect this con­sen­sus” on bi­lat­eral talks, Lu said. He added that he will not com­ment on hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tions when asked how Bei­jing would re­act to the United States block­ing ac­cess to China’s is­lands.

Zuo Xiy­ing, a re­search fel­low at the Na­tional Acad­emy of De­vel­op­ment and Strat­egy at Ren­min Uni­ver­sity of China, said Bei­jing “should con­tinue the needed buildup there — in­clud­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive and de­fense mea­sures — and clearly tell Wash­ing­ton that it will not back down on this mat­ter of ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty”.

While the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­ferred to pres­sure Bei­jing with the rule of law, US mil­i­tary threats against China in the South China Sea may in­crease this year, Zuo said. “Both sides should fully man­age po­ten­tial crises by bet­ter us­ing ex­ist­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels and in­sti­tu­tions to avoid an ac­ci­den­tal clash,” he said.

Jonathan Pol­lack, a se­nior fel­low at the John L. Thorn­ton China Cen­ter of Brook- ings In­sti­tu­tion, said of Tiller­son’s tes­ti­mony, “Such strongly worded com­plaints di­rected against China sug­gest that US-China re­la­tions could be en­ter­ing a much more con­tentious phase as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as­sumes power.”

Zuo Xiy­ing said China should ce­ment ties with South­east Asian coun­tries in­volved in the dis­pute to “di­min­ish the le­git­i­macy of US meddling” in the area.

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