BEIJING: China on Saturday voiced “its strong dissatisfaction and opposition” after the United States accused Beijing of raising tensions by setting up a new military garrison in the South China Sea. Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang was cited by the official Xinhua news agency as making the remarks after the United States hit out at China over its decision last week to establish the garrison in the disputed Paracel islands.
The US criticism “completely ignored the facts, deliberately confounded right and wrong, sending a seriously wrong signal,” Qin was quoted as saying in a statement.
It did not help efforts aimed at “safeguarding the peace and stability of the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific region,” he said.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement on Friday that the United States was “concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea and are monitoring the situation closely.”
“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.”
The US Senate approved a resolution late Thursday that “strongly urges” all regional nations to exercise self-restraint and to refrain from permanently inhabiting points in the South China Sea until a code of conduct is reached.
The resolution, sponsored by senators from both major parties, declared that the United States was committed “to assist the nations of Southeast Asia to remain strong and independent.”
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.
The State Department statement on Friday 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, an issue discussed by Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto on a visit on Friday to Washington.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, addressing a joint news conference with Morimoto, voiced hope for further progress in a code of conduct on the South China Sea.
“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.
Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former US government strategist, said that China may have set up the garrison as a way to counter the recent US military focus on Asia.
“To be sure, China is well aware that its assertiveness is not well received in East Asia, and tends to lead smaller nations to tilt to the US to balance China,” Manning wrote in an essay released by his think tank. “But Beijing seems to be calculating that despite the more robust US military posture in the region, China can throw its weight around and the US response will be limited to diplomatic reprimand,” he wrote.