CHINA insisted Wednesday that the Philippines was the instigator of heightened tensions in the South China Sea and that Manila had violated agreements on maritime conduct by abandoning direct dialogue with Beijing.
The Department of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the accusation by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that the Philippines had reneged on the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea between China and Southeast Asian nations.
Wang also branded the Philippines as the instigator of tension in the disputed South China Sea.
“One country, and let me not avoid mentioning the name: that is, the Philippines, has violated the stipulation of Article 4 of DOC and has given up on the dialogue and negotiations with the direct concerned parties of China, which is regrettable and which is ill-advised,” Wang said in a statement.
The Philippines has filed an arbitration case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands. China has refused to participate in the proceedings.
Wang warned other claimant countries in the region from deploying naval power to enforce their claims.
“We don’t hope to see anymore close-up military reconnaissance or the dispatch of missile destroyers or strategic bombers to the South China Sea. This is something we have a responsibility for under our non-militarization commitment,” the Chinese foreign minister said.
But the Foreign Affairs Department said Wednesday it was trying to verify reports that China has deployed J-11 and JH-7 fighter jets on Woody Island, part of the Paracel island chain in the hotly disputed region.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said it was not the first time China had sent fighter jets to Woody Island, but added the deployment of surface-to-air missiles on the island was of greater concern.
China controls the Paracel chain, but Taiwan and Vietnam also claim it.
The Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia have conflicting claims with China as well over islands in the South China Sea.
Taiwan military officials confirmed the deployment of missiles on Woody Island.
China said these were for defense and denied it was militarizing the island.
In Washington, Navy Capt. Darryn James, a spokesman for US Pacific Command, confirmed a Fox report on the deployment of planes but said the Chinese have done it before.
The movement of planes was reported as US Secretary of State John Kerry hosted his Chinese counterpart, Wang, in Washington.
Wang had been scheduled to visit the Pentagon earlier Tuesday but the visit was canceled due to a “scheduling conflict,” officials said.
On Monday, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies released satellite imagery showing what appeared to be a high-frequency radar installation under construction on an artificial island on Cuarteron Reef in the Spratlys.
China’s land reclamation and military buildup in the South China Sea have drawn international condemnation and the United States has said it will continue to sail through waters claimed by Beijing.
The United States and China remained apart Tuesday over Beijing’s alleged bid to use disputed areas in the South China Sea for military purposes.
“There are missiles and fighter aircraft and guns, artillery and other things that have been placed into the South China Sea” in addition to radars, Kerry told a joint press conference with Wang after their talks in Washington.
“We want to halt the expansion and the militarization of occupied features,” Kerry said.
Wang challenged Washington’s view, saying, “The South China Sea islands have historically been China’s territory.” He criticized the US military for operating inside what China claims to be territorial waters near contested areas since October last year.
“We don’t hope to see any more close-up military reconnaissance or the dispatch of missile destroyers or strategic bombers to the South China Sea,” Wang said.
The US military sailed a destroyer near the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands in October and another near Triton Island in the Paracel chain in January. It also flew a B-52 bomber near Cuarteron Reef in December in a flight it says was unintentional.
Washington says the maneuvers are part of a so-called freedom of navigation operation aimed at demonstrating that the US government does not recognize any territorial claim near submerged features in the sea.
China has built artificial islands on Subi, Cuarteron and other reefs through reclamation work and constructed large-scale facilities on them.
With tensions escalating in the South China Sea, the US Army is discussing the possibility of sending mobile artillery units to the region.
Over the weekend, US President Barack Obama stated that his administration would continue to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“We think China is resorting to the old style of might makes right, as opposed to working through international law and international norms to establish claims and to resolve disputes,” Obama said in an interview with Channel News Asia.
The US and its Pacific allies have accused China of building artificial islands on top of sensitive marine habitats to establish an air defense zone in the highly contested waterway. China maintains it has every right to build within what it considers to be its own territory, and has stated that the islands will be used primarily for humanitarian purposes.
Beijing has accused Washington of stirring unrest in the region, and new information of additional behind-the-scenes machinations have come to light.
According to a senior US Army official, the US may soon deploy mobile artillery, the kind traditionally used in land-based offensives, to the South China Sea, as defensive units.
“We could use existing Howitzers and that type of munition to knock out incoming threats when people try to hit us from the air at long ranges using rockets and cruise missiles,” the official said.
Such a plan would require the cooperation of regional allies, who would have to approve the placement of the guns.
“A Howitzer can go where it has to go. It is a way of changing an offensive weapon and using it in dual capacity,” the anonymous military official said. “This opens the door to opportunities and options we have not had before with mobile defensive platforms and offensive capabilities.”
US Senator John McCain said the US should consider imposing sanctions on Chinese entities over its actions in the South China Sea.
“I think it’s time for the United States government to explore the appropriateness of sanctions against Chinese companies involved in the [land] reclamation that has destabilized the South China Sea and has caused massive environmental destruction across this maritime domain,” McCain said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.
McCain said he was worried China would “attempt to expel another country” from the disputed maritime region such as the Second Thomas Shoal or build new infrastructure at locations like Scarborough Shoal.
In response to such a move, McCain urged Washington to “consider clarifying” how US or Philippine forces would respond to an attack on that territory.
“We should also consider further steps for enhancing posture, improving infrastructure, funding additional exercises, pre-positioning additional equipment and munitions and building partner capacity throughout the Asia-Pacific region,” McCain added.
The area of the Spratly Islands—a group of over 750 islands and reefs that are believed to hold significant oil and gas reserves—is disputed by China and a number of regional countries.
Countries laying claim to the islands say they serve as an important commercial shipping route.
In recent days, China has come under scrutiny for allegedly constructing radar installations on the Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly Islands, which is expected to boost the country’s surveillance capabilities. With PNA
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