Posted on Saturday, August 4th, 2012 and is filed under International News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday criticised China’s establishment of a new military garrison in the South China Sea as it called on all sides to lower tensions in the hotly contested waters.

China announced last week that it was establishing the tiny city of Sansha and a garrison on an island in the disputed Paracel chain, infuriating Vietnam and the Philippines, which have accused Beijing of intimidation.

“We are concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and are monitoring the situation closely,” US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a 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,” he said.

Ventrell also pointed to “confrontational rhetoric” and incidents at sea, saying: “The United States urges all parties to take steps to lower tensions.”

China says it controls much of the South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam all claim portions. Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of stepping up harassment at sea.

The United States has rallied behind Southeast Asian nations, expanding military ties with the Philippines and Vietnam, as Washington looks to expand its influence in a region where China is increasingly assertive.

During a 2010 visit to Vietnam, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the United States had a national interest in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, through which half of world cargo passes.

Ventrell reiterated that the United States has an interest in stability and “unimpeded lawful commerce” in the South China Sea but that Washington does not take a position on rival claims.

China also has separate disputes with US ally Japan in the East China Sea. Japanese Defence Minister Satoshi Morimoto held talks in Washington on Friday.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, addressing a joint news conference with Morimoto, praised the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for working on a code of conduct for the South China Sea and called for further progress.

“The last thing we want is to have direct confrontation in the South China Sea with regards to jurisdictional issues,” Panetta said.

“Those should be resolved peacefully, and they should be resolved pursuant to a code of conduct. And the United States will do whatever we can to work with Japan and others to ensure that that is the approach we take,” he said.

Deep disputes last month prevented Southeast Asian nations from issuing a customary annual joint communique at talks in Cambodia, holding up progress on reaching a code of conduct with China.

The code of conduct would aim to set rules to reduce the chances of a spat over fishing, shipping rights or oil and gas exploration tipping into an armed conflict.






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