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China summons US diplomat over S. China Sea remark

By Gillian Wong
Associated Press / August 5, 2012
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BEIJING—China summoned an American diplomat to protest U.S. criticism of its new military garrison in the South China Sea, accusing Washington of confusing right and wrong and trying to stir up trouble in the region.

China created Sansha city on a remote island 220 miles (350 kilometers) from its southernmost province two weeks ago. Sansha is intended to administer hundreds of thousands of square miles (kilometers) of water where China wants to strengthen its control over potentially oil-rich islands that are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and other Asian nations. The Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally, has described China's move as unacceptable. Vietnam called it a violation of international law.

The U.S. State Department said Friday that China's formal establishment of the city of Sansha and a military garrison there was risking an escalation in tensions. It voiced strong support for diplomatic efforts by Southeast Asian nations to negotiate with China over conflicting territorial claims.

Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Kunsheng summoned the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Robert S. Wang, on Saturday to express China's opposition to those comments.

In Beijing, Zhang told Wang: "The statement showed total disregard of facts, confounded right and wrong, and sent a seriously wrong message. It is not conducive to efforts by the parties concerned to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea and the Asia-Pacific region at large."

Beijing has announced plans to set up a garrison for Sansha and has named officers to lead it, but has provided no other details.

In a separate statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang reiterated China's position that the country has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea. "The recent establishment of the Sansha city is a necessary adjustment made by China to the existing local administrative structure and is well within China's sovereign rights," Qin said.

Qin accused the United States of taking sides, saying that Washington has not criticized countries whose naval vessels have threatened Chinese fishermen or who have marked out oil and gas blocks in the sea.

Separately, the official Xinhua News Agency published a commentary Sunday saying that U.S.-led war games this year were detrimental to Asia-Pacific stability.

Xinhua said it was "alarming" that some of the exercises have "even openly taken China as the imaginary enemy." It said the war games were intended to show that the United Sates would not allow anyone to challenge its dominant position in the region.

The United States, which has tens of thousands of forces based in the Asia-Pacific, views itself as a stabilizing influence in the region, and its diplomacy on the South China Sea, where it says it holds no position on the competing sovereignty claims, has helped boost its standing in Southeast Asia. But criticism of China risks straining ties with Beijing that the U.S. also sees as crucial for regional stability.

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