China has defended its military expansion in the South China Sea and denied claims that it’s militarizing the artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, according to USA Today.
The comments come immediately after U.S. President Barack Obama finished his six-day Asian trip, during which he repeatedly criticized Beijing’s military expansion in the disputed region.
Failing to immediately respond to Obama’s comments about China’s military efforts in the South China Sea, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said on Sunday that the U.S. was testing China by sending warships through the area. Liu claimed Beijing’s construction projects on the sea are a “public service” to protect the reefs and islands that China claims its own, while the move of station personnel to the disputed islands is “for the benefit” of other countries using the waters of the South China Sea.
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“One should never link the military facilities with efforts to militarize the South China Sea,” Liu told reporters, according to USA Today. “This is a false argument. It is a consistent Chinese position to firmly oppose the militarization of the South China Sea.”
Liu also warned other countries against “stirring up trouble” in the South China Sea. China’s alleged militarization efforts in the region have been the reason for escalating tensions in the region, with many experts worrying that the conflict could lead to a military confrontation between the U.S. and China.
Washington recently asserted its freedom of navigation in the disputed area. Earlier this month, the USS Lassen sailed inside the 12-mile nautical zone around Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago. This reef is one of seven reefs that China has artificially built in order to claim its sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and the sea around it, including waterways that carry $5 trillion in trade annually.
Obama says TPP pact against China is a win for the U.S.
Obama addressed the South China Sea issue on Sunday before leaving Asia.
“At the U.S.-ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and East Asia Summits, a key topic was the South China Sea, and many leaders spoke about the need to uphold international principles, including the freedom of navigation and overflight and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” the U.S. President said.
Trade issues were also raised during Obama’s trip to Asia, as the President promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade liberalization pact that was signed in October. Obama told attendees at an ASEAN business and investment meeting on Saturday that the TPP pact, which is to be ratified by all 12 nations, is “the highest standard trade agreement in history.” The President said the pact will boost labor and environmental standards, promote the rule of law and put in place stronger and more accountable governance for all countries involved. But he also added that the pact will benefit the U.S. economy.
“TPP is a win for the United States,” Obama said, as reported by USA Today. “I am not going to be shy about this. As U.S. president, I make no apologies for fighting to open markets to American companies and workers. And we have had success.”
Obama’s “best trip” to Asia
According to USA Today, analysts believe that Obama’s trip to Asia was the most notable example of Washington’s long-planned focus on Asia.
“President Obama’s attendance at the meetings itself is, to the region, very significant,” Joseph Chinyong Liow, professor of comparative and international politics at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, told USA Today.
Liow also said that Asia, and particularly Japan, has always been concerned that Washington may find distractions in other parts of the world.
“In the wake of the events of Paris, it was good to see President Obama make the trip, during which he also reiterated the importance of Asia to American policy,” he said.
“I think Asia sees the pivot, or rebalance, in full swing right now,” Ernest Bower, Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told USA Today.
Bower said Obama has finally taken a firm stance, and with the TPP pact negotiations completed, the U.S. economy is on the rise and Washington’s freedom of navigation operations as a response to the South China Sea disputes continue.
“For me, it’s his best trip to Asia as president,” he said.
China: we can seize more islands in South China Sea
ValueWalk reported on Saturday that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Obama that Japan is open to the idea of jointly patrolling the disputed area China claims is under its sovereignty. Japanese media quoted officials as saying that Abe told Obama he was “opposed to all unilateral attempts to change the status quo and escalate tensions,” which is apparently a reference to Beijing’s militarization efforts in the South China Sea. Beijing said it can use military force to kick out nations illegally to seize more islands in the disputed South China Sea, but China is now showing restraint, as reported by ValueWalk on Tuesday.
“The Chinese government has the right and the ability to recover the islands and reefs illegally occupied by neighboring countries,” Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said, speaking about the South China Sea but not naming any particular country.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei all have sovereignty claims in the disputed South China Sea. All but Brunei have military fortifications in the disputed area, which raises concerns about a high risk of military confrontation in the region.
“But we haven’t done this [seized the islands]. We have maintained great restraint with the aim to preserve peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Liu added.