China 'concerned' over Asean position

CHINA has expressed "serious concern" over the position adopted by Asean over its controversial land reclamation work in the South China Sea and stressed that its territorial disputes with Asean member states are not a matter of concern in its relationship with the regional grouping.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei yesterday told a media briefing that Beijing has already "exercised maximum self-restraint" over the South China Sea issue by working with other claimant states to ensure regional peace and stability, through dialogue and negotiations and in respect of history and international law.

"For long, freedom of navigation and overflight has not been affected and will not be affected in the future," he added.

Yesterday, an Asean statement said the reclamation has "eroded trust and confidence, and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea".

China, Taiwan and four Asean states - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - have competing claims in the resource-rich South China Sea.

Non-claimant states such as trade-dependent Singapore have expressed interest in peaceful resolution of the disputes to ensure freedom of navigation in the waters. China's position is that the disputes should be settled bilaterally, but some Asean states prefer a collective effort against the Asian giant.

Concerns over potential regional strife have spiked with the latest satellite images showing how China's reclamation has accelerated since last year.

China's response has been to defend its reclamation as "lawful and reasonable" within its own territory, and it has accused unnamed countries of doing similar work in others' backyards. But earlier this month, it gave an in-depth explanation - for the first time - that the facilities would be for military and civilian use.

Mr Hong yesterday reiterated China's defence of its reclamation, and repeated veiled criticisms of Manila's move - to get Asean to issue an ultimatum to China to stop its reclamation - as a bid to "hijack China-Asean relations" for self-interest.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg