BEIJING, June 8 (Reuters) - China stepped up criticism of the Philippines in a fresh exchange of invective over disputed waters, calling on Manila to stop infringing its sovereignty with irresponsible claims over the South China Sea.
“China demands that the Philippines stop unilateral actions that damage China’s sovereignty and interests at sea and could lead to the expansion and complication of the South China Sea dispute, and stop issuing irresponsible comments that are inconsistent with facts,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
The comments, posted on the ministry’s website late on Tuesday, were China’s most vitriolic in weeks of tension as the Philippines has denounced what it says is the increasing assertiveness of Chinese ships in the region. On Tuesday, it cited the United States’ stake in the stability and security of the world’s second-busiest sea lane. [ID:nL3E7H70W9]
Hong said China had stood by its position for centuries. Conducting missions and patrols by Chinese vessels in waters under Chinese jurisdiction was “completely reasonable”.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territories in the sea, which covers an important shipping route and is thought to hold untapped oil and gas reserves. [ID:nL3E7H502N]
China’s claim is to most of the sea’s 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
Manila has accused China of intrusions into its territory, citing six instances, including one in March when two Chinese patrol boats tried to ram a survey ship.[ID:nSGE72305M]
Vietnamese officials have also complained about Chinese activity in the contested waters, accusing Chinese patrol boats of harassing an oil-exploration ship conducting a seismic survey 120 km (80 miles) off Vietnam’s south-central coast.
One incident this month, in which Chinese vessels placed a buoy and posts in a part of the sea it claims, spurred protests in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
China could launch its first aircraft carrier this year, according to Chinese military and political sources, a year earlier than U.S. military analysts had expected.
Despite that growing naval might, China says it poses no threat to its neighbors and that its long-term double-digit increases in military spending are in line with overall growth.
Hong said China was willing to negotiate directly with the Philippines to “seek an appropriate resolution to the relevant dispute”. (Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by)