US warned of 'heavy price' in South China Sea

Japanese navy ships in Manila for a visit last week. The two warships are reported to be off to Vietnam next. Beijing has expressed concern over the ships' visits.
Japanese navy ships in Manila for a visit last week. The two warships are reported to be off to Vietnam next. Beijing has expressed concern over the ships' visits.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Beijing's challenge follows that of its navy against US carrier group in disputed waters

Beijing has warned Washington that it could pay "a very heavy price" arising from strategic miscalculations in the South China Sea, even as reports emerged that Chinese naval vessels had surrounded a United States aircraft carrier group in the contested waters.

Mr Cui Tiankai, China's envoy to the US, told the semi-official China News Service in Beijing on Saturday that both sides need to avoid strategic misjudgment and added that the US had made such errors that saw it "paying a very heavy price" in the Korean War and Vietnam War.

He said there is now a view in the US that China was plotting to challenge American hegemony after seizing the upper hand in the Western Pacific through its actions in the South China Sea. These included construction of artificial islands and military facilities like runways, and deployment of missiles.

"This is another example of a strategic misjudgment. I urge the US not to repeat its mistakes in the past," said Mr Cui, whose remarks, made on the sidelines of China's national legislative session, were published only yesterday.

 
 
 

Countering what it deems as Beijing's challenge to freedom of navigation and overflight, the US has been conducting naval patrols in the contested sea, which is a vital shipping channel and rich in natural resources.

The latest saw the carrier strike group USS John C. Stennis starting its patrol in the eastern part of the South China Sea from March 1.

A statement on Saturday by the US navy quoted Stennis' commanding officer Greg Huffman, who was last deployed in the region in 2007, as saying he noticed more Chinese ships than before around his strike group, though there were no problems between both sides.

"We have Chinese ships around us that we normally didn't see in my past experience. Everything I have heard over bridge-to-bridge channels has been good communications between professional mariners," he said.

Besides Mr Cui, Foreign Minister Wang Yi also warned other countries over the South China Sea, pointing out that the situation is largely stable and that freedom of navigation has not been an issue.

"We hope no countries will engage in a show of force in the region which will not help the current situation," Mr Wang told reporters on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People's Congress.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman also voiced Beijing's concerns over the upcoming visits by a Japanese submarine and warships to Vietnam and the Philippines - the two states deemed to be the most opposed to China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Reuters, quoting an unnamed source, reported that a Japanese submarine will visit the Philippines for the first time in 15 years, while two warships will go to Vietnam.

Spokesman Hong Lei said Japan had occupied the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea during World War II and that China was on "high alert" for Japan's military moves in the region. "The cooperation of relevant countries should benefit regional stability and should not be directed at third parties or harm another country's sovereignty or security interests."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'US warned of 'heavy price' in S. China Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe