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War of words erupts as John Kerry calls Beijing 'provocative' in South China Sea disputes

Foreign minister hits back after John Kerry calls Chinese actions in South China Sea 'provocative'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 5:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 6:04pm
 

China and the United States exchanged heated words yesterday over the recent tensions between Beijing and its neighbours about disputed territory in the South China Sea.

"[John Kerry] said China's introduction of an oil rig and numerous government vessels in waters disputed with Vietnam was provocative," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, referring to a telephone call between the US secretary of state and Foreign Minister Wang Yi .

Wang called on the US to be objective and urged it to "stick to its promises, and act and speak cautiously", according to a statement on the Foreign Ministry's website.

Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China had not taken any provocative moves in the South China Sea.

"The US' mistaken comments have encouraged dangerous and provocative actions," she said in a daily press briefing. "We expect the US to reflect on its acts. If it expects the Pacific Ocean to be peaceful, it should think what role it can play in maintaining regional peace and stability."

The exchange between the two top diplomats came as tensions between China and Vietnam escalated after Beijing positioned an oil rig on May 1 in the Paracel Islands - called the Xisha Islands by China and the Hoang Sa Islands in Vietnam, which also claims them.

The US can showcase the importance of its presence in the Asia Pacific
Professor Wang Fan

At the same time, the Philippines decided to prosecute nine of 11 Chinese fishermen apprehended in the disputed Spratly Islands for poaching sea turtles. Manila said it released two fishermen because they were minors.

"We were told that the two minors would be released soon," said Dai Yudao, an official of an association that represents the fishermen in Qionghai, Hainan province.

"But we are not familiar with the Philippine legal system and don't know what will happen to the other fishermen."

Beijing and Hanoi have been engaged in a stand-off over the past week, with both accusing each other of ramming ships.

In signs that the tensions may linger for some time, several thousand Vietnamese workers protested at an industrial park in Binh Duong province in southern Vietnam yesterday over Beijing's deployment of the oil rig. The plant is Taiwanese-owned and makes footwear. The workers waved banners and shouted anti-China slogans, Vietnam's Thanh Nien Daily reported on its website.

Employees of other production plants also joined the protest.

About 1,000 workers from Mega Step Electronics, which is under the Hong Kong-based Fittec International Group, also took part, Thanh Nien said.

In a meeting with Singapore's foreign minister, K. Shanmugam, yesterday, Kerry said the US was concerned about the Chinese challenge to the Paracel Islands.

"We want to see a code of conduct created; we want to see this resolved peacefully through the Law of the Sea, through arbitration, through any other means, but not direct confrontation and aggressive action," he said.

Wang Fan, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, said the conversation between the Chinese and American top diplomats indicated that both nations were taking steps to avoid the territorial disputes becoming another flashpoint between Beijing and Washington.

"On one hand, the US can showcase the importance of its presence in the Asia Pacific, and draw Southeast Asian nations closer to Washington with the disputes between Beijing and its neighbours," he said. "But on the other hand, it does not want the dispute to get out of control."

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Reuters

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