China’s South China Sea military deployments are no different from U.S. deployments on Hawaii, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday, striking a combative tone ahead of a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the United States this week.
The United States last week accused China of raising tensions in the South China Sea by its apparent deployment of surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island, a move China has neither confirmed nor denied.
Asked whether the South China Sea, and the missiles, would come up when Wang is in the United States to meet Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Washington should not use the issue of military facilities on the islands as a “pretext to make a fuss”.
“The U.S. is not involved in the South China Sea dispute, and this is not and should not become a problem between China and the United States,” Hua told a daily news briefing.
China hopes the U.S. abides by its promises not to take sides in the dispute and stop “hyping up” the issue and tensions, especially over China’s “limited” military positions there, she said.
U.S. ships and aircraft carrying out frequent, close-in patrols and surveillance in recent years is what has increased regional tensions, she said.
“It’s this that is the biggest cause of the militarization of the South China Sea. We hope that the United States does not confuse right and wrong on this issue or practice double standards,” she said.
‘Conduct naval operations like us’
Australia and other countries should follow the U.S. lead and conduct “freedom-of-navigation” naval operations within 12 nautical miles of contested islands in the South China Sea, a senior U.S. naval officer was reported as saying on Monday.
Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, is in Australia for high-level talks with defence leaders and has discussed growing concerns over Beijing’s military expansion in the disputed region, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year and which is believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
Beijing has been angered by air and sea patrols the United States has conducted near islands China claims. Those have included one by two B-52 strategic bombers in November and by a U.S. Navy destroyer that sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels group last month.
Aucoin told reporters it would be “valuable” if Australia and others sent warships to conduct similar operations within 12 nautical miles of disputed territories.
“What we’re trying to ensure is that all countries, no matter size or strength, can pursue their interests based on the law of the sea and not have that endangered by some of these actions,” Aucoin said, according to the ABC.
“It’s up to those countries, but I think it’s in our best interests to make sure that those sea lines remain open, I’ll leave it at that,” he said.
Tensions between China and its neighbours have risen further since Taiwanese and U.S. officials said last week Beijing had placed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, part of the Paracels archipelago it controls.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week urged claimants to refrain from island-building and militarization in the South China Sea.