China dismisses Philippine leader's call to fear Beijing

BEIJING (AFP) - Beijing on Wednesday dismissed as "groundless" Philippine President Benigno Aquino's warning that the Asian giant's actions in the South China Sea should "engender fear for the rest of the world".

Mr Aquino made his remarks in an exclusive interview with AFP on Tuesday, saying that China's increasing bold assertions of its territorial claims could cut access for other nations to vital international shipping lanes and rich fishing grounds in the sea.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing: "The relevant accusations by the Philippines are groundless." China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, using vague demarcation lines that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s, locking it into territorial disputes with several of its neighbours.

Asked to assess recent Chinese government moves, Mr Aquino said: "Does it engender fear? Yes, I think it should engender fear for the rest of the world." "The question of it escalating to something beyond everybody's control should be at the top of the minds of all world leaders," he added.

Using the Chinese name for the Spratlys, where satellite imagery shows Beijing has recently constructed artificial islands, runways and man-made harbours, Mr Hong said: "The Philippines' territory has never covered the Nansha islands.

"We urge the Philippines to respect China's territorial sovereignty," he added.

Mr Hong said that Beijing favoured the resolution of territorial disputes through "negotiation with countries directly concerned, based on respect for historical facts".

He added that Chinese construction "does not impact or target any other countries, or threaten the security of international shipping lanes and fishing activities".

The US has weighed in on China's projects, with a State Department spokesman saying the reclaimed land was "fuelling greater anxiety within the region" and might become "militarised".

US President Barack Obama warned last week that Beijing should not "elbow aside" countries it is in dispute with in the South China Sea.