China opposes external powers weighing in on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, it said after Vietnam said other countries, including the United States, could help defuse tensions over the potentially resource-rich region
Vietnam outlined the terms of a possible military draft, a move that experts called a signal meant to show the country was prepared to defend its interests, but Beijing’s warning appeared aimed at Washington, which urged a collective solution to the sea tensions last year.
“We hope that countries that are not parties to the South China Sea dispute truly respect the efforts of the countries concerned to resolve their disputes through consultation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
China’s main military newspaper was blunter, Reuters reports.
“China resolutely opposes any country unrelated to the South China Sea issue meddling in disputes, and it opposes the internationalisation of the South China Sea issue,” said a commentary in the Liberation Army Daily.
China’s statements coincided with naval exercises by Vietnam’s military along its central coast, and followed a weekend statement by Hanoi welcoming efforts by the international community, including the United States, to help resolve the maritime disputes.
China and Vietnam have traded accusations for weeks over what each sees as intrusions into its territorial waters by the other in a stretch of ocean spanned by key shipping lanes and thought to hold large deposits of oil and gas.
Beijing has said it is not to blame.
“The recent developments in the South China Sea were the result of unilateral actions by some countries that damaged China’s sovereignty and maritime rights,” spokesman Hong said.
“China has been protecting its legitimate rights and not violating those of other countries.”
Accusations of unlawful intrusions in the South China Sea are not uncommon between China, Vietnam and the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, but this bout of tension has run longer than usual.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed a decree on Monday listing the types of cases which would be exempt in the event of a military draft in time of war. The decree takes effect from Aug. 1.
“Vietnam is speaking to two audiences,” Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy, told Reuters. “It’s speaking to a domestic audience where it is under pressure to be shown to be taking steps to deal with China. The other is to China.”
China’s latest comments were in response to those from a key U.S. Democratic lawmaker on Asia policy, Senator Jim Webb, who said on Monday he would introduce a resolution urging China to enter into multilateral talks on maritime territorial disputes with its neighbors.
Tension between China and the United States intensified last year after the Obama administration became embroiled in the South China Sea dispute by stressing Washington’s support for a collective solution.
This year, Sino-U.S relations have steadied, and Washington has so far been more muted about the issue. Beijing insists on handling the disputes on a one-on-one basis rather than multilaterally, a strategy some critics have described as “divide and conquer”.
A Vietnamese military source confirmed the live-fire drills were under way. Vietnam’s military newspaper accused China at the weekend of creating disputes “through provocative actions (and) hostilities aimed at its neighbours”.