KUALA LUMPUR • The United States is creating political provocations with its patrols in the South China Sea, China said yesterday as tensions continue to swirl around competing territorial claims in the disputed waters.
Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told a news conference here that Washington was testing Beijing with its insistence on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, believed to contain rich reserves of oil and natural gas and through which passes half of all world trade.
Earlier this month, US B-52 bombers flew near some of the artificial islands being built by China in waters where it claims sovereignty. Last month, the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, conducted a patrol around one of the islands.
Commenting on the patrol, Mr Liu said yesterday: "This time, in a very high-profile manner, the US sent military vessels within 12 nautical miles of China's islands and reefs.
"This has gone beyond the scope of freedom of navigation. It is a political provocation and the purpose is to test China's response."
This time, in a very high-profile manner, the US sent military vessels within 12 nautical miles of China's islands and reefs. This has gone beyond the scope of freedom of navigation. It is a political provocation and the purpose is to test China's response.
CHINESE VICE-FOREIGN MINISTER LIU ZHENMIN, on US activities in the region
China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has been transforming reefs in the Spratly archipelago into artificial islands and building airfields and other facilities on some of them. Washington says navigation in the sea could be threatened by China's actions.
On Saturday, US President Barack Obama called on countries to stop building artificial islands and militarising their claims, and said the US would continue to assert its freedom of navigation rights in the sea.
China said yesterday it would continue to build military and civilian facilities on its artificial islands. "Building and maintaining necessary military facilities, this is what is required for China's national defence and for the protection of those islands and reefs," Mr Liu said.
China planned to "expand and upgrade" the civilian facilities on the islands "to better serve commercial ships, fishermen, to help distressed vessels and provide more public services", he said. China has mostly built civilian facilities, he said, adding that China rejects the notion it is militarising the South China Sea.
Mr Liu's comments were some of the most forceful explanations that China has given regarding its position on the South China Sea.
With Mr Obama present, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told yesterday's closed-door East Asia Summit that countries "from outside the region" should stop inflaming tensions over the maritime dispute, a Chinese official said afterwards.
At the same time, China offered its own carrot to Asean, announcing new infrastructure loans totalling some US$10 billion (S$14.1 billion).
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE