US, China clash over South China Sea dis­putes


The United States and China clashed Wed­nes­day over who is to blame for ris­ing ten­sions over ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the South China Sea with Washington de­mand­ing a halt to “prob­lem­atic ac­tions” in the area and Bei­jing telling for­eign par­ties to keep out.

In blunt but diplo­matic terms, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and his main­land Chi­nese coun­ter­part Wang Yi sug­gested that ef­forts to ease ten­sions over com­pet­ing claims re­mained a con­tentious work in progress de­spite hopes for move­ment on ways to re­solve them here at a South­east Asian re­gional se­cu­rity fo­rum.

Kerry urged China to end provoca­tive land recla­ma­tion projects in the South China Sea that have ratch­eted up ten­sions with its smaller neigh­bors in some of the world’s busiest com­mer­cial sea lanes.

Wang, mean­while, sent a strong mes­sage that those with­out claims, such as the United States, should al­low China and the other claimants to deal with them on their own.

Kerry told for­eign min­is­ters of mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions that the U.S. shares their de­sire “to en­sure the se­cu­rity of crit­i­cal sea lanes and fish­ing grounds, and we want to see that dis­putes in the area are man­aged peace­fully and on the ba­sis of in­ter­na­tional law.” A se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said Kerry made the case for eas­ing ten­sions in a closed-door meet­ing with Wang.

In his meet­ing with Wang, Kerry re­it­er­ated U. S. con­cerns about the ris­ing ten­sions and “China’s large scale recla­ma­tion, con­struc­tion, and mil­i­ta­riza­tion of fea­tures,” ac­cord­ing to the se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial.

The of­fi­cial said Kerry had “en­cour­aged” China, and the other claimants, “to halt prob­lem­atic ac­tions in or­der to cre­ate space for diplo­macy.” The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be- cause he was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the pri­vate meet­ing.

Chi­nese land recla­ma­tion in con­tested wa­ters has irked South­east Asian na­tions who, like the U.S., want China to stop. Washington is call­ing for a halt to ag­gres­sive ac­tions by China and other claimants to al­low a diplo­matic so­lu­tion to the rift. The U.S. is not a party to the con­flict but says a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of the prob­lem and free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion are in the U.S. na­tional in­ter­est.

China re­jects any U.S. in­volve­ment and in­sists it has the right to con­tinue the recla­ma­tion projects. Bei­jing was op­posed to the is­sue be­ing raised at the se­cu­rity fo­rum in the first place.

Kerry told the ASEAN min­is­ters that his meet­ing with Wang had been “good” and that he hoped “we will find a way to move for­ward ef­fec­tively, to­gether, all of us” over the course of the two-day fo­rum.

But Wang gave no in­di­ca­tion he had been swayed by Kerry, telling re­porters later that for­eign par­ties should sup­port Bei­jing and ASEAN’s plan to ac­cel­er­ate ne­go­ti­a­tions on a code of con­duct gov­ern­ing be­hav­ior in the dis­puted wa­ters.

“We want to send a clear mes­sage to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that China and ASEAN have the ca­pa­bil­ity and wis­dom to re­solve this spe­cific is­sue be­tween us,” he told a news con­fer­ence. “We shouldn’t al­low the South China Sea re­gion to be desta­bi­lized.”

He said that China is com­mit­ted to a peace­ful so­lu­tion through “rules and mech­a­nisms al­ready in place.” He also pledged that China will up­hold free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and over­flight at sea. “There has not, and will not be any prob­lem in this re­gard,” he said.

Wang bris­tled when asked about calls for China to halt its is­land-build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

“China has stopped, China has stopped. You want to see who is build­ing? Take a plane and go see who is still build­ing.” he said.


U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, left, and main­land Chi­nese for­eign rep­re­sen­ta­tive Wang Yi talk be­fore a bi­lat­eral meet­ing at the Pu­tra World Trade Cen­ter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Wed­nes­day, Aug. 5.

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