China lodges complaint with US over spy plane

BEIJING - China said it has lodged a complaint with the United States over an American spy plane which flew over parts of the disputed South China Sea, in a diplomatic row that has fuelled tension between the world's two largest economies.

The move came as a Chinese state-owned newspaper said yesterday that "war is inevitable" between China and the US over the South China Sea unless Washington stops demanding that Beijing halt the building of artificial islands in the disputed waterway.

China had said last week that it was "strongly dissatisfied" after a US spy plane flew over areas near the reefs, with both sides accusing each other of stoking instability.

Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China had lodged a complaint and that it opposed "provocative behaviour" by the US.

"We urge the US to correct its error, remain rational and stop all irresponsible words and deeds," she said.

"Freedom of navigation and overflight (does not in any way) mean that foreign countries' warships and military aircraft can ignore the legitimate rights of other countries as well as the safety of aviation and navigation."

Beijing had noted "ear-piercing voices" from many in the US about China's construction on the islands and reefs, Ms Hua said.

The nationalist Global Times, a tabloid owned by the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper, People's Daily, said war was "inevitable" between China and the US unless Washington stopped its demand for Beijing to halt construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

It said China was determined to finish its construction work, calling it the country's "most important bottom line".

Such commentaries are not official policy statements, but are sometimes read as a reflection of government thinking.

Washington has vowed to keep up air and sea patrols in the South China Sea amid concerns among security experts that China might impose air and sea restrictions in the Spratlys once it completes work on its seven artificial islands.

China has said it has every right to set up an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea, but that current conditions did not warrant one.

The Global Times said "risks are still under control" if Washington takes into account China's peaceful rise.

"We do not want a military conflict with the US. But if it were to come, we have to accept it," the newspaper said.

REUTERS