By Ryan Woo
BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said maritime disputes should be resolved through talks and warned of “camp” confrontations, but stopped short of naming the United States, days before an expected meeting between the leaders of the two countries.
The Philippines, Japan and the United States have complained about what they say is growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. Beijing claims most of the region is part of its territory, a claim hotly disputed by several neighboring states.
Last month, China and the Philippines clashed over a collision in the South China Sea when Chinese ships blocked the passage of Filipino ships. Beijing said the ships “entered” Chinese territory as they attempted to send supplies to Philippine troops stationed on a disputed shoal that lies in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Tense encounters between China and the Philippines at the disputed shoal have prompted Japan to call for trilateral cooperation with the United States to help Manila strengthen its security capabilities.
“Historic maritime disputes should be resolved through friendly consultations between direct parties, and confrontations between maritime camps and zero-sum games should be resisted,” Wang said Tuesday at a symposium on maritime governance in Hainan, without naming a nation.
Crisis communication mechanisms also need to be improved, Wang said, without referring to the incidents.
China has long criticized what it calls “cliques” between nations, particularly countries that have no direct claims in disputes. Beijing has been particularly critical of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, which identifies China as an aggressor in the region, including the South China Sea, and undermines international maritime law, including freedom of navigation.
Last year at the same symposium, Wang said a “certain major country” had developed the Indo-Pacific strategy, assembled exclusive “small circles” and increased “provocative” close-range maneuvers and muscle-flexing.
But in his remarks on Tuesday, Wang struck a more measured tone and avoided overt references to the United States, amid broader bilateral efforts to ease tensions and days before an expected meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines an upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
China will continue to comply with its obligations under international maritime law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Wang said, again without referring to Washington.
A year earlier, he criticized the “certain big country” for refusing to join UNCLOS, which includes more than 160 countries. Although the United States accepts UNCLOS, it has yet to ratify it.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo. Editing by Gerry Doyle)