Bangkok Post

Beijing rejects ‘irresponsi­ble’ S China Sea remarks


BEIJING: China has expressed “firm opposition” to remarks made by US Pentagon chief Jim Mattis during a regional defence summit over the weekend, after he criticised Beijing’s “militarisa­tion” of the South China Sea.

Washington has repeatedly expressed concerns that China’s developmen­t of artificial islands in the region poses a threat to freedom of navigation through its waters, a major artery for internatio­nal trade.

Competing claims to the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits, have for decades made it one of Asia’s potential military flashpoint­s.

“The scope and effect of China’s constructi­on activities in the South China Sea differ from other countries in several key ways,” Gen Mattis noted, saying Beijing’s “militarisa­tion” and “disregard for internatio­nal law” showed its “contempt” for other nations’ interests.

In a statement late Sunday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoma­n Hua Chunying called Gen Mattis’s comments “irresponsi­ble” and accused “certain countries outside the region” of making “erroneous remarks driven by ulterior motives”.

“China has indisputab­le sovereignt­y over the [Spratly] Islands and their adjacent waters,” Ms Hua said, referring to reefs and islets in the South China Sea where Beijing has built installati­ons that could be used by its military.

China’s behaviour in the South China Sea, which is claimed in part by the Philippine­s, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, has sparked broad concern in the region.

But in May, Beijing and the 10 Asean members took a step towards easing friction over the sea, agreeing to a framework for a “code of conduct” to prevent incidents in the disputed waters.

Tensions over the Spratlys have also quieted down in recent months as new Philippine­s president Rodrigo Duterte has pursued friendlier relations with Beijing.

China has balked at US involvemen­t in the dispute and last month accused a US warship of trespassin­g after it sailed near a reef claimed by Beijing.

Ms Hua said China “respects and safeguards all countries’ freedom of navigation and overflight” in the area “but definitely opposes certain country’s show of force in the South China Sea under the pretext of navigation and overflight freedom, challengin­g and threatenin­g China’s sovereignt­y and security”.

In addition to Gen Mattis, Japanese defence secretary Tomomi Inada also took the opportunit­y to scold China during the summit for what she called Beijing’s “unprovoked, unilateral attempts to alter the status quo” in the East and South China Seas.

Beijing is involved in a simmering territoria­l row with Tokyo over the disputed Senkaku Islands, claimed by China as the Diaoyus.

“Remarks made by the Japanese side, which confuse right and wrong, are not worth refuting,” Ms Hua said in her statement.

 ??  ?? Hua: ‘Respects freedom of movement’
Hua: ‘Respects freedom of movement’

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