Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang attends the ASEAN Plus Three Summit in Vientiane, Laos, September 7, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
China has implicitly urged the United States not to meddle in the South China Sea territorial dispute, saying Beijing is eager to work with South Asian countries to settle the issue.
According to a statement released by China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, the country’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang said Beijing was willing to work with the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in “dispelling interference... and properly handling the South China Sea issue.”
While not referring to the US by name, the Chinese prime minister was clearly referring to Washington, which frequently pops in to take sides in the regional dispute — with China’s rival claimants.
Hours earlier, Arsenio Andolong, a spokesperson for the Philippines’ Defense Department, had accused China of building “illegal” islands at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
This aerial photograph taken from a military aircraft shows alleged ongoing land reclamation work by China on a reef in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, May 11, 2015. (Photo by AFP)
“We have reason to believe that their presence is a precursor to building activities on the shoal,” Andolong had said at the regional summit of the 10-member ASEAN in Laos earlier on Wednesday. “We are continuing our surveillance and monitoring of their presence and activities, which are disturbing.”
After the claims put forward by Manila, ASEAN leaders met with Li and his aides in a closed-door meeting.
China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea, through which $6.5 trillion in shipping trade passes annually. The sea is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
In July, The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in a case brought by the Philippines that China’s claims to sovereignty over the disputed areas in the South China Sea or its resources “had no legal basis.” The tribunal also accused Beijing of violating the Philippines’ economic and sovereign rights.
China, however, rejected the ruling, saying the court had no jurisdiction over the issue.
US President Barack Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice (L) attend the ASEAN summit in Vientiane on September 8, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has said that the international tribunal’s ruling was “binding.”
“The landmark arbitration ruling in July, which is binding, helped clarify maritime rights in the region,” Obama said in the ASEAN summit in Laos on Thursday.
“I recognize this raises tensions,” he said, “but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and stability.”
Washington has previously reacted to China’s alleged island building by sending warships in the vicinity of the islands and flying fighter jets over them, moves that have angered Beijing.
China says the US is “militarizing the region” and that the disputed areas have historically been its territory.