Sea dispute: China warns US not to harm its sovereignty

China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a logistics drill near the James Shoal area in the South China Sea in May. The UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration will rule next Tuesday in a case the Philippines brought challenging China's claims to most
China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a logistics drill near the James Shoal area in the South China Sea in May. The UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration will rule next Tuesday in a case the Philippines brought challenging China's claims to most of the strategically vital waterway.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • The United States should do nothing to harm China's sovereignty and security in the South China Sea, China's Foreign Minister has told US Secretary of State John Kerry, ahead of a key court ruling on China's claims in the disputed waterway.

Speaking by telephone on Wednesday, Mr Wang Yi told Mr Kerry the US should stick to its promises not to take sides in the dispute.

China hopes the US "speaks and acts cautiously, and takes no actions that harm China's sovereignty and security interests", Mr Wang said, according to the statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The phone call, initiated by Mr Kerry, came amid news that US destroyers had been patrolling around Chinese-held reefs and islands in the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The USS Ronald Reagan and its escort ships have also been patrolling the South China Sea since last week. "All of these patrols are conducted in accordance with international law and all are consistent with routine Pacific Fleet presence throughout the Western Pacific," a Pacific Fleet spokesman told Reuters.

While not close enough to be within 12 nautical miles - a so-called freedom of navigation operation that would require high-level approval - the destroyers operated within 14 to 20 nautical miles of the Chinese-occupied features, reported the Washington-based Navy Times.

China has started what it calls "routine military exercises" around the Paracel Islands in the north of the disputed waters.

The week- long drills are scheduled to end next Monday, the eve of the ruling.

The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration will rule next Tuesday in a case the Philippines brought in early 2013 challenging China's claims to most of the strategically vital and resource-rich South China Sea. China's claims also overlap in parts with those of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon yesterday said that he could not comment on the Philippines' legal case, but called for a peaceful resolution of differences and urged all parties "to avoid any escalation or misunderstandings that could put security and development in the region at risk".

US officials have expressed concern that China may respond to the ruling - which legal experts expect to favour Manila - by declaring an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea, as it did in the East China Sea in 2013, or by stepping up its building and fortification of artificial islands.

In his phone call with Mr Kerry, Mr Wang reiterated China's position that it also wanted a peaceful resolution, but that it would not accept forced arbitration. "This approach will not help bring about a peaceful resolution of disputes. On the contrary, it would only escalate the disputes and tension and should be resisted by all countries and people who uphold justice," he said.

Earlier this week, a veteran Chinese foreign policymaker said the ruling "amounts to nothing more than a piece of waste paper" and urged Washington to scale back its "heavy-handed intervention" in the disputed waters.

"We in China will not be intimidated by the US actions," said Mr Dai Bingguo, a former state councillor in charge of foreign affairs, on Tuesday. He was speaking at a dialogue at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to discuss the ruling, reported Xinhua.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'Sea dispute: China warns US not to harm its sovereignty'. Print Edition | Subscribe