China tells US it has right to protect sovereignty in South China Sea

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before their bilateral meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, on Jan 27, 2016.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before their bilateral meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, on Jan 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday (Jan 27) that China has a right to protect its territorial sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea and that Beijing and Washington should manage the issue in a constructive way.

Mr Wang was speaking to reporters after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is visiting Beijing. 

He added that China will honour its commitment not to militarise the disputed South China Sea and will not accept any allegation that its words are not matched by actions.  

Mr Kerry said during his meeting with Mr Wang that the United States and China must find a way forward on the North Korea nuclear issue and the situation in the South China Sea.

Mr Kerry, on a two-day visit to Beijing, had promised to press China to push for more curbs on North Korea after it said it had successfully conducted a test of a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear device on Jan 6.

Beijing, Pyongyang’s lone major backer, has criticised similar remarks by State Department officials as irresponsible, saying it has made great efforts to achieve denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

Though the United States and China had made good progress on issues from climate change to counter-terrorism, “clearly we have several important issues that we need to find the way forward on,” Mr Kerry told Mr Wang, according to a pool report on the meeting.

“One is the nuclear program of the DPRK, North Korea, a major challenge to global security, one of the most important issues for the security of the United States of America,”  Mr Kerry said.

The 15-member UN Security Council said at the time of North Korea’s test that it would begin working on significant new measures in response, a threat diplomats said could mean an expansion of sanctions.

Since then, diplomats said Washington and Beijing have been primarily negotiating on a draft resolution, but when asked on Saturday if they were nearing agreement, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said no.

Mr Kerry also told Mr Wang that the two countries had to make progress on “concerns and activities in the South China Sea”.

China claims almost all the disputed waters in the potentially oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

It has been building up facilities on islands it controls, angering the Philippines and Vietnam and drawing criticism from the United States, which has expressed deep concern that the construction will exacerbate tension in the region.

Mr Kerry was in Cambodia on Tuesday after a visit to neighbouring Laos as part of an effort to urge unity among leaders of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), before a summit with President Barack Obama in Sunnylands, California, next month.

China insists any disputes should be handled bilaterally.