South China Sea: Beijing slams US and Australia’s naval drills in disputed waters
South China Sea: China responds to US and Australia naval drills
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The United States has put countering China at the heart of its national security policy for several years now, with both countries at loggerheads over issues from Taiwan and human rights to Chinese military activities in the disputed South China Sea. The US has conducted dozens of naval exercises in the disputed waters to push back Beijing’s hold. But China has since responded with a dig at the US and Australia.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wnang Wenbin told reporters: “We hope the relevant countries will do more to promote regional stability and peace, rather than showing military power.”
The Philippines, Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea, a conduit for goods in excess of $3 trillion every year.
Foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China agreed during a meeting to exercise restraint in the South China Sea and avoid actions that could escalate tensions, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said on Tuesday.
The ASEAN statement referred to a meeting on Monday in China of the ministers, and comes after separate diplomatic protests in recent weeks made by Malaysia and the Philippines over the conduct of China’s military and fishing fleet.
It comes as head of the Philippines’ armed forces visited a coral-fringed island his country occupies in the South China Sea this week, fuelling further tensions with Beijing.
During Monday’s visit, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Cirilito Sobejana commended the soldiers for the role they played in protecting the island’s residents and “guarding the country’s territories” in the strategic waterway.
The visit comes after recent diplomatic protests made by the Philippines over what it says is the illegal presence of hundreds of “Chinese maritime militia” vessels inside its exclusive economic zone and near its occupied islands in the South China Sea.
Sobejana’s trip to Thitu, known to Filipinos as Pagasa, happened on Monday, but information was only made public by the AFP on Wednesday.
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Thitu is the biggest of the nine reefs, shoals and islands the Philippines occupies in the Spratly archipelago, and is home to a small number of military personnel and civilians.
Sobejana told reporters: “The troops are in very high spirit, their level of moral is high especially after our visit.”
He added that he also wanted to inspect the island to oversee plans to convert it into a logistics hub to make it easier for naval assets conducting patrols to refuel.
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The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China agreed during a meeting on Monday to exercise restraint in the South China Sea and avoid actions that could escalate tensions.
It comes as Malaysia has insisted China explains an “intrusion” by 16 air force planes into its airspace, after the Southeast Asian country’s military detected “suspicious” activity over the South China Sea.
Malaysia’s air force said it scrambled jets on Monday to conduct visual confirmation after the planes flew within 60 nautical miles off Sarawak state of Malaysian Borneo.
It described the incident as a “serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety”.
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