China media call for 'unaffordable price' in sea dispute

BEIJING (AFP) - China's state-run media on Tuesday called for Beijing's territorial challengers to be made to pay an "unaffordable price", with the country embroiled in heated rows in the South China Sea.

Regional tensions have risen sharply since Beijing moved a deep-water drilling rig into waters disputed with Vietnam for the first time, and a foreign ministry official said on Friday Vietnamese ships had rammed Chinese vessels 171 times since May 3.

Hanoi says its own patrol vessels were repeatedly rammed by Chinese ships near the Paracel Islands, which China calls Xisha.

Philippine police last week detained 11 Chinese fishermen off the disputed Half Moon Shoal, with nine of them charged on Monday despite Beijing's warning of a dire effect on relations.

"The Philippines has singled itself out as a determined challenger of Chinese national interests and the devoted hatchet man of foreign anti-China forces," the government-run China Daily said in an editorial.

"It needs to be convinced that it has made a choice that, if it persists, means paying an unaffordable price."

China asserts ownership over almost all of the South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia as well as Taiwan. It is also in a bitter dispute with Japan over small islands in the East China Sea.

Beijing's move to send the oil rig - described by the United States as "provocative" - came after President Barack Obama's trip to US allies Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines last month, when China's territorial claims were a constant theme.

The China Daily accused Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam of worsening situations in the region, encouraged by "malicious third parties".

"Beijing must make sure that every claimant knows blackmail and extortion will not work, and that it will not compromise its territorial integrity," it said. "A rat will not be pacified when we hesitate to pelt it for fear of smashing the vase beside it," it added.