Chinese state-run media ratcheted up criticisms of the U.S. Tuesday over tensions in the South China Sea, with the Communist Party's top newspaper – People's Daily Online – telling Washington that it is "stirring up troubles".
The Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned a U.S. State Department statement published on August 3, 2012, that said Washington was closely monitoring territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and that China's establishment of a military garrison in the area may lead to "further escalating tensions in the region".
"We are concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and are monitoring the situation closely," the U.S. Department of State Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said in the statement. "In particular, China's upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha City and establishment of a new military garrison there covering disputed areas of the South China Sea run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region," Ventrell added.
Ventrell was referring to the upgrading of Sansha’s status to a prefecture-level city in the province of Hainan, which took place on July 24, 2012. It nominally administers several disputed island groups and undersea atolls – which are possibly oil and gas resource rich – in the South China Sea, comprising the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands as well as the Macclesfield Bank.
The statement issued by the U.S. Department of State has "completely ignored the facts [and] deliberately confounded right and wrong," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement on August 4, 2012. "Setting up Sansha city … is completely within China's sovereignty," Qin added.
The mosaic of rival territorial claims in the South China Sea has become Asia's worst potential military flashpoint. The territorial standoffs – mainly between China, Vietnam and the Philippines – have been at best uneasy in the past; however, they appear to have reached a point of near-military confrontation this year.
In April this year, the Philippines got into a row with China when it spotted Chinese fishing boats along the coast of the Scarborough Shoal, an outcropping of rocks in the South China Sea which both countries claim territory over. President Benigno Aquino said in a statement on July 2, 2012, that the Philippines could place a request to the United States to deploy US P3C Orion spy planes over the South China Sea to help it better police the region.
Meanwhile, before its spate with the Philippines could be resolved, state-backed CNOOC on June 25, 2012, announced it would open nine offshore blocks in the South China Sea for joint cooperation with foreign companies. Seven of the offshore blocks are sited in the Zhongjianan Basin, while two are located in areas covering the Wan'an Basin and the Nanweixi Basin. Vietnam lays claim to all of these offshore blocks as well. The dispute over the nine offshore blocks, likely in part linked to previous tensions between the two countries, led to Vietnam's publication of a statement on June 30, 2012 that "condemns CNOOC's action". China responded with a concerted launch of four combat-ready patrol ships to the disputed area on July 1, 2012.
The two incidents escalated into a watershed event in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) history, the failure to issue a joint statement at the end of the 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting.
Beijing has said its disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian claimants should be settled on a bilateral basis.
"In 2002, China and ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which states that sovereign states directly concerned should resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means and through friendly consultations and negotiations," Qin said. "China has a clear knowledge as to which way it will choose. It will neither be interrupted by Washington's resentment nor changed by the U.S.'s attitude," the People's Daily Online said in support of Qin's sentiments.
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