SOUTH CHINA SEA IS CALM
China rejected calls from the US and the Philippines for countries to refrain from "provocative actions" that would raise tension in the South China Sea where it has taken an increasingly assertive stance in pursuing sovereignty claims over disputed islands.
"Someone has been exaggerating or even playing up the so-called tension in the South China Sea," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a press conference at a foreign ministers' meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Saturday. "We do not agree with such a practice, and we call for vigilance in the motives behind them."
Mr Wang characterised the proposal by John Kerry, US secretary of state, and a similar one from Albert Del Rosario, Philippine foreign minister, as "setting up a separate kitchen", saying it was unnecessary given an agreement last year in which China and its neighbours agreed to talk about a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
Those talks have yielded little progress however, and a series of incidents have heightened tensions between China, Vietnam and the Philippines. The Philippines has clashed with China over competing claims to the Spratly Islands.
The US has pointed to China's placement of an oil rig near the Paracel Islands, over which both Vietnam and China claim sovereignty, as an example of the kind of provocative action it hopes to avoid. That action provoked deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
Last week, China also announced it was building lighthouses on five land formations in the South China Sea. China said the lighthouses were necessary to improve navigation safety.
A joint communiqué issued by participants at the Asean meeting on Saturday called on all parties to "avoid actions which would complicate the situation and undermine peace, stability, and security in the South China Sea and to settle disputes through peaceful means."
The communiqué from the Asean summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, also covered trade and development issues, but South China Sea issues dominated the meeting.
China reiterated its preference on Saturday for resolving South China Sea disputes bilaterally. Analysts say this is intended to minimise US influence over negotiations.
"The United States and Asean have a common responsibility to ensure the maritime security of critical global sea lanes and ports," Mr Kerry said to the conference on Saturday.
Mr Wang said at the press briefing that China will exercise restraint but will "respond to provocations unequivocally and resolutely at the same time".
The briefing began on a sour note when Mr Wang criticised Mr Kerry for arriving more than half an hour late. This elicited an apology from Kerry, according to the official Xinhua news service.
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