WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States should do nothing to harm China’s sovereignty and security in the South China Sea, China’s foreign minister told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, ahead of a key court ruling on China’s South China Sea claims.
Speaking by telephone, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Kerry the United States should stick to its promises not to take sides in the dispute, China’s foreign ministry said.
China hopes the United States “speaks and acts cautiously, and take no actions that harm China’s sovereignty and security interests”, the statement paraphrased Wang as saying.
Tensions and rhetoric have been rising ahead of a July 12 ruling by an arbitration court hearing the dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea in the Dutch city of The Hague.
Wang repeated China’s rejection of the case, saying the court had no jurisdiction.
“The farce of the arbitration court should come to an end,” he said.
Regardless of its ruling, China will “resolutely safeguard its own territorial sovereignty and legitimate maritime rights and firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea”, Wang added.
China frequently blames the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
China has accused the United States of militarising the waterway with freedom of navigation patrols, while Washington has expressed concern about China’s building of military facilities on islands it controls in the South China Sea.
U.S. officials say the U.S. response should China stick to its vow to ignore the ruling could include stepped up freedom-of-navigation patrols close to Chinese claimed islands in what is one of the world’s business trade routes.
In the call initiated by Kerry, Wang also said relations between China and the United States were generally on a sound track and that the two sides should further focus on cooperation while properly managing their differences.
The U.S. State Department confirmed that Kerry had spoken to Wang.
“The two discussed issues of mutual interest. We are not going to get into the details on this private diplomatic conversation,” State Department spokeswoman Gabrielle Price said.
China has been angered by U.S. patrols in the South China Sea in recent months and on Tuesday launched what the Defense Ministry termed “routine” military drills there.
On Tuesday, Beijing sought to downplay fears of conflict in the South China Sea after an influential state-run newspaper said Beijing should prepare for military confrontation.
U.S. officials say they fear China may respond to the ruling by declaring an air defence identification zone in the South China Sea, as it did in the East China Sea in 2013, or by stepping up its building and fortification of artificial islands.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Sandra Maler and Lincoln Feast