China blames US for ratcheting up South China Sea tensions

Filipino protesters in Makati City burn an effigy of a missile at the Chinese embassy. Picture: AP
Filipino protesters in Makati City burn an effigy of a missile at the Chinese embassy. Picture: AP
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China yesterday accused the United States of militarising the South China Sea, just days after it was revealed Beijing had deployed surface-to-air missiles on an island in the hotly disputed area.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said patrols by US military aircraft and naval vessels, along with joint exercises involving regional partners were fuelling concerns over peace and stability.

“The above actions have escalated tensions in the South China Sea, and that’s the real militarisation of the South China Sea,” Mr Hong said. US and Taiwanese officials this week confirmed commercial satellite images showing the missiles on Woody Island in the disputed Paracel chain.

China has not denied the appearance of the missiles, but says it is entitled to defend its territory and points to the construction of lighthouses, weather stations and other infrastructure undertaken to provide more “public goods and services to the international community.”

The deployment follows China’s building of new islands by piling sand on reefs and then adding airstrips and military installations. The build-up is seen as part of Beijing’s efforts to claim the seabed and its resources.

Vietnam, which along with Taiwan also claims the Paracels, issued a diplomatic note to the Chinese embassy in Hanoi yesterday to demand a stop to what it called “China’s infringement of Vietnam’s sovereignty” over the islands.

China’s action “have also threatened peace and stability in the region as well as security, safety, and freedom of navigation and aviation,” foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said.

The Philippines said it was “gravely concerned” by reports of the missile deployments.

Although not one of the six governments with claims in the South China Sea, the US says it has a national interest in the region’s stability and freedom of navigation and overflight.

Secretary of State John Kerry has suggested that the militarisation contradicted a public assurance from Chinese president Xi Jinping when he visited the White House last September.