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China to step up actions against U.S. in South China Sea: scholar

2018/03/24 16:08:16

Ren Guoqiang (任國強/CNA file photo)

Hong Kong, March 24 (CNA) China may react with more force in the future to what it considers United States military "provocations" in the South China Sea, a Hong Kong-based scholar said Saturday after Beijing responded strongly to a U.S. warship's move on Friday.

According to international media outlets, the USS Mustin, a U.S. Navy destroyer, traveled within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, where China has built an artificial island, while conducting a "freedom of navigation" mission on Friday.

Commenting on the mission, Chinese Ministry of Defense spokesperson Ren Guoqiang (任國強) said two Chinese vessels identified the guided missile destroyer and warned it off.

Ren called the move a provocation by the U.S. and said China resolutely opposes such actions because they harm the military relations between the two countries, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

While Beijing will safeguard the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea as stipulated by international law, it "resolutely opposes any illegal provocation in the name of 'freedom of navigation,'" he said.

Li Fung (李風), secretary-general of the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, said Saturday that this response was harsher than past responses from Beijing regarding U.S. warships in the area, and could signify that it is no longer going to tolerate such behavior.

China could adopt a stronger approach should such an event occur again, Li argued, describing the tensions between the two countries in the South China Sea as bordering on "extreme danger."

China claims the South China Sea and its land features as its sovereign territory, a claim disputed or rejected by other countries in the region.

The U.S. has repeatedly objected to Beijing's expansion in the region and its building of artificial islands with military facilities, and insisted on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea's waters.

Some media outlets have pointed out that the timing of the U.S. warship's mission coincided with the announcement Thursday of a U.S. government plan to impose tariffs on up to US$60 billion worth of goods imported from China.

Beijing later responded by proposing retaliatory tariffs of up to US$3 billion of U.S. goods.

The South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, cited Ni Lexiong (倪樂雄), a Shanghai-based military expert, as saying the U.S. was deliberately trying to put pressure on China with the warship as trade tensions between the two escalate.

"This is a gesture, and it's a combination of economic and military pressure," the report quoted him as saying.

(By Kuan-lin Liu and Stanley Cheung)
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