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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Beijing accuses US of ‘stirring up’ SCS tensions

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China on Monday said the United States was responsible for “deliberate stirring up” of tensions in the South China Sea, after a US warship navigated through waters claimed by Beijing.

“On December 4, littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords illegally entered the waters adjacent to Ren’ai Reef in the Nansha region of China without the approval of the Chinese government,” Southern Theatre Command spokesman Tian Junli said.

Ayungin Shoal – referred to in Chinese as Ren’ai Reef – is about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island.

China’s military on Monday “followed the entire operation,” said Tian, adding that the “deliberate stirring up of the South China Sea by the United States is a serious infringement of China’s sovereignty and security.”

“Troops in the theater of command maintain a high state of alert at all times, resolutely defending national sovereignty and security.”

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Also on Monday, France’s top diplomat urged Beijing to re-think its assertive behavior in the South China Sea, saying the “world doesn’t need a new crisis.”

Beijing has been ramping up military drills in the strategically crucial Taiwan Strait, while the Chinese coast guard has been accused of harassing Filipino fishing boats in disputed waters.

Australia criticized Beijing last month for its “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct at sea, saying one of its navy divers was injured by sonar pulses from an approaching Chinese warship.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, speaking at the Australian Press Club in Canberra, said China should play its part to reduce tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We are of course concerned by what happened a few days ago to the Australian navy, as well as what happened to the Philippines a few weeks ago,” she said.

“Calm and stability must prevail in the Taiwan Strait, and certainly the world doesn’t need a new crisis,” she added.

Colonna stressed China should be free to pursue its “economic rise,” but that in exchange it needed to meet international expectations on issues such as human rights.

“For all these reasons we will keep engaging China constructively, and there are actually encouraging signs,” she said. “Our efforts are paying off somehow and creating positive trends of cooperation.”

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, including waters and islands close to the shores of its neighbors.

It has ignored a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that its claims to almost the entire sea have no legal basis.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have also staked claims to various islands and reefs in the sea, which is believed to contain rich petroleum reserves. AFP

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