South China Sea: Hague case
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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says China wants talks with the Philippines over territorial claims, but Manila has rejected its overtures . Photo: Kyodo

China accuses Philippines of ‘provocation’ for seeking international arbitration to resolve territorial disputes in South China Sea

China has accused US ally the Philippines of “political provocation” in seeking international arbitration over territorial claims in the South China Sea, driving home its intention to ignore the proceedings despite pressure from Washington.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the decision by Philippine leaders to lodge a case with a tribunal in The Hague was “irresponsible to the Filipino people and the future of the Philippines”.

China has refused to participate in the arbitration process, which it has denounced as illegitimate. A ruling is expected later this year after the tribunal decided last October that it could hear the case.

READ MORE: Is this China’s message to the US? Chinese missile frigate enters service in East China Sea

Meanwhile in Beijing, China’s Defence Ministry said the commander of US forces in the Pacific had smeared China as part of an attempt to obtain additional defence funding from Congress, in the latest bout of verbal jousting accompanying rising tensions in the South China Sea.

Ministry spokesman Colonel Wu Qian strongly criticised Admiral Harry Harris’ assertions before Congress that China was militarising the economically and strategically vital waterway and seeking “hegemony” in East Asia. China adamantly denies such accusations and says Washington and its allies are responsible for raising tensions.

The Philippines initiated arbitration in early 2013 after Beijing refused to withdraw its ships from a disputed shoal under a US-brokered deal. It contends that China’s massive territorial claims in the strategic waters do not conform with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and should be declared invalid. The Philippines also asserts that some Chinese-occupied reefs and shoals do not generate, or create a claim to, territorial waters.

We’ve been sailing in the South China Sea, and will continue to sail wherever international law allows, for decades now. We’re not doing anything new
Ash Carter, US Defence Secretary

Wang blamed the Philippines for shutting the door to negotiations with China over their dispute and seeking arbitration without China’s consent.

He said China was prepared to negotiate “tomorrow”.

“We are neighbours just separated by a narrow body of water,” Wang told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank. “We want to contribute to the Philippines’ economic development.”

Wang was in Washington this week for talks with his counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry.

China has conducted a massive programme of land reclamation over the past two years in the South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Harris told Congress this week that China has constructed more than 1,210 hectares of artificial land there in little more than two years, compared with about 46 hectares reclaimed by the other claimants in more than 45 years.

Wang said China has stopped reclaiming land, but other countries are continuing.

Wang also said China’s military facilities on islands and reefs were needed for self-defence as other nations have already militarised surrounding shores. China also intends to build civilian infrastructure like weather stations and emergency harbours for ships in danger, he said, which would benefit the international community.

Despite China’s endorsement of the sovereign rights of nations, Wu, the Defence Ministry spokesman, reiterated China’s strong opposition to the potential deployment in South Korea of a defensive missile defence system against North Korea.
Protesters burn a mock missile during a rally near the Chinese Consulate in the financial district of Makati city in the Philippines to denounce the alleged deployment of surface-to-air-missiles by China on disputed islands in the South China Sea. Photo: Associated Press

China says the system’s radar coverage would extend into China, harming its national security interests. Harris, in his Congressional testimony, had said it was “preposterous” that China would try to “wedge itself” between South Korea and the US over the issue.

READ MORE: China accuses US commander of using smears to seek funds from Congress

The US and China have repeatedly traded accusations over who is responsible for the rising tensions, with Washington saying China’s island building project has disturbed the delicate balance between claimants. Beijing says continued activities by US military ships and planes near the man-made islands have sought to provoke a response from Beijing.

U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday rejected that notion.

“The reason these activities are getting noticed isn’t because the United States is doing something new,” Carter said during congressional testimony. “We’ve been sailing in the South China Sea, and will continue to sail wherever international law allows, for decades now. We’re not doing anything new.”