WASHINGTON—US Secretary of State John Kerry has told Chinese officials that Washington will launch countermeasures if Beijing takes further provocative acts in the South China Sea, American diplomatic sources said Thursday.
If Beijing unilaterally declares an air defense identification zone over the disputed waters, for example, “It will force our hand,” Kerry was quoted by one of the sources as saying during the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on June 5 to 7 in Beijing.
Kerry stopped short of saying what kind of countermeasures he has in mind. But he appears to have signaled actions such as strengthening US freedom of navigation operations and the deployment of US military units in the South China Sea.
Kerry also demanded that China abide by a ruling that a UN-backed arbitral tribunal will hand down on July 12 regarding the legitimacy of Beijing’s claims to almost the whole South China Sea, sources said.
The world is watching China’s response to the ruling to be issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Kerry was quoted by the source as saying.
The Philippines brought the arbitration case to the court, arguing China’s claims to most of the South China Sea violate the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Many experts believe the coming ruling will be unfavorable for China.
During the talks in Beijing, Kerry expressed displeasure about China’s lobbying the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations not to support the arbitration process.
“We know what you are doing—dividing Asean,” Kerry was quoted by another source as saying.
A Chinese official, however, said that China was “not bound by the Unclos,” the source said.
China has said it will not accept arbitration on the South China Sea and repeated its preference to negotiate bilaterally with other claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam in a perceived attempt to overwhelm them with its economic might.
The United States is considering expanding the Navy’s surveillance activity in the South China Sea as Beijing has stepped up island construction and militarization of outposts in the disputed waters in an apparent attempt to unilaterally alter the status quo there.
Washington is closely watching whether Beijing will take further provocative measures such as unilaterally declaring an ADIZ over the South China Sea and reclaiming Scarborough Shoal, which Manila claims as its territory.
Separately, the United States has informed China that it will refrain from taking specific actions on the South China Sea before Beijing hosts a summit of the Group of 20 major developed and developing nations in September, according to a diplomatic source.
The move signals Washington’s push on Beijing to exercise restraint ahead of planned talks between President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Sept. 4 to 5 summit in Hangzhou, eastern China.
In Beijing, Xi Jinping said China would never compromise on sovereignty.
The ruling party must maintain absolute power in the country, strengthen its military and enhance its role on the world stage, Xi told serried ranks of top officials in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, at a ceremony to mark the 95th anniversary of the Communist Party.
“No foreign country... should expect us to swallow the bitter pill of harm to our national sovereignty, security or development interests,” Xi said, adding: “We are not afraid of trouble.”
His remarks come as regional tensions rise over Beijing’s claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, with the US sending naval patrols close to artificial islands Beijing has built in the disputed waters.
Xi took an apparent stab at the US, saying: “We will not show up at other people’s front doors to flex our muscles. That does not show strength or scare anyone.”
An international tribunal in The Hague will rule on July 12 in a case brought by the Philippines challenging China’s claims in the strategic waterway.
Beijing insists that the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no jurisdiction over the issue and has boycotted the proceedings.
Since assuming the party’s top post in 2012, Xi has rapidly consolidated power while overseeing a more assertive foreign policy and a tighter authoritarian stance at home.
In his speech, Xi heaped praise on the ruling party and vowed to maintain the country’s centralized Communist-led political system.
“All party comrades must remember what we are constructing is socialism with Chinese characteristics, and not any other ideology,” he said.
The Communist party, which had some 88.7 million members at the end of last year, must maintain “absolute leadership,” he said.
Xi has won popularity with a much-publicized anti-corruption campaign that has claimed the scalps of several former top-ranked officials.
“The biggest threat to our ruling party is corruption,” he said, calling for a “complete purification of the party’s political environment”.
He credited the Communist party with expelling “imperialism” from Chinese soil, and stressed the country’s economic growth in recent decades.
He stressed the need for “Mao Zedong thought” but did not refer to the tens of millions killed in famines and political campaigns launched by the founder of the People’s Republic.
The speech contained more than 20 references to “Marxism” and was followed by a rendition of the left-wing anthem “The Internationale” by a brass band.
He also issued a warning to Taiwan’s newly elected President Tsai Ying-wen -- saying: “We will resolutely oppose all Taiwanese separatist forces”.
Shortly before the ceremony began, a Taiwanese warship mistakenly launched a supersonic “aircraft carrier killer” missile towards the mainland, which landed in the Taiwan Strait, Taipei’s navy said.
Xi vowed to “build, in line with our global status and in accordance with national interests, a strong army and consolidate national defense”.
He also said that China would take an active role in what he called “global governance”, suggesting it was seeking a weightier role in international affairs.
Xi added: “China will actively participate in building a global governance system, and will contribute Chinese wisdom to perfecting such a system.” –
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