BANGKOK: China has urged the US military to “stop flexing muscles” in the disputed South China Sea, a point of persistent friction in a relationship both sides said was generally improving.
A spokesman for the Chinese ministry of defence, Col Wu Qian, told reporters in Bangkok yesterday that the South China Sea was among numerous issues discussed earlier in the day when US defence secretary Mark Esper held his first face-to-face meeting with Chinese defence minister Gen Wei Fenghe.
They met for over half an hour on the margins of an Asia defence officials’ conference.
“We agreed to keep talking and engaging frequently, ” Esper told reporters afterward in a brief exchange. “We continue to make progress on any number of issues.”
The South China Sea has been a major point of contention between Beijing and Washington for years.
China claims the South China Sea as its sovereign territory, but those claims overlap with those of other Asian governments.
The United States has no territorial stake, but has periodically sailed navy ships through areas of the sea that China deems off-limits.
Wu told a news conference that Esper and Wei had a “very positive and constructive” meeting and “agreed in many areas”.
But he was clear that Beijing was irritated at the US Navy’s presence in the South China Sea and reaffirmed China’s commitment to safeguarding “territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests” in the area.
“The Chinese side also urges the US side to stop flexing muscles in the South China Sea and to not provoke and escalate tensions there, ” he said through a Chinese interpreter.
He added that the United States should “stop intervening in the South China Sea and stop military provocations”.
Asked about China’s view on the civil unrest in Hong Kong, Wu said, “Ending violence and restoring order is the most pressing task we have in Hong Kong.” — AP