‘We would urge the US not to continue down the wrong path,’ a Defense Ministry spokesman says, after USS Lassen passed near a manmade Chinese island
China’s military will take “all necessary” measures in response to any future US navy incursions into what it considers its territorial waters around islands in the South China Sea, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Thursday.
The statement by colonel Yang Yujun came hours before naval senior US and Chinese were due to hold talks on the manouvres which have heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington.
China strenuously protested on Tuesday when the USS Lassen passed within a 12-nautical-mile (22km) limit around a manmade Chinese island in the South China Sea. Yang offered no details on how Beijing might respond differently in the future.
“We would urge the US not to continue down the wrong path. But if the US side does continue, we will take all necessary measures according to the need,” Yang said. China’s resolve to safeguard its national sovereignty and security interests is “rock-solid”, he added.
His comments came hours before the US chief of naval operations and his Chinese counterpart were due to hold an hour-long video teleconference, a US official said.
The meeting was initiated by admiral John Richardson and admiral Wu Shengli to discuss recent operations in the South China Sea and naval ties between the two countries, the official said.
It will be the third video teleconference held between a US naval operations chief and the Chinese equivalent.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and its islands, reefs and atolls as its sovereign territory, an assertion challenged by five other regional governments.
While the US takes no formal position on sovereignty, it insists on freedom of navigation and has urged China to cease its ambitious project to construct new islands complete with buildings, harbors and airstrips.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Thursday that the US “takes no position on competing sovereign claims to land features in the South China Sea. Rather, we urge all countries with claims on territory to work through diplomacy to try to resolve those differences”.
But he also said that “no country, including China, should be trying to use their size and influence to try to resolve these conflicts militarily or through some other means. They should resolve them with diplomacy”.
Referring specifically to the freedom of navigation operation carried out by the US Navy on Wednesday, Earnest said that such operations “are not a challenge to sovereignty of land features, but in this case it was carried out consistent with … the principle that the US will fly or sail anywhere that international law allows”.
Yang reiterated Beijing’s claim that the USS Lassen violated Chinese sovereignty and international law, although the sail-by appeared to fall under internationally allowed “innocent passage” rules. Yang gave no details of China’s claims.
Yang said a pair of Chinese navy ships had shadowed the Lassen, monitored its actions and issued warnings.
The spokesman said China supported the right to freedom of navigation and overflight, but accused the US of abusing those for its own interests.
“We are strongly against any kind of effort in the name of freedom of navigation that might damage the interests and security of the littoral states,” Yang said.
Yang said that the commander of the Chinese navy, admiral Wu Shengli, would present China’s “solemn position” on the issue in a video conference later Thursday with the US head of naval operations, admiral John Richardson.
However, he indicated that the incident wouldn’t disrupt official exchanges between the sides, saying that planning was still underway for a visit by admiral Harry Harris Jr, commander of the US Pacific Command, later this year. Harris recently stated that the South China Sea is no more China’s than the Gulf of Mexico is Mexico’s.