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China is warning the United States to stay out of its dispute with five other nations over territorial rights in the South China Sea, an energy-rich region and major shipping route in Southeast Asia.

China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their surrounding waters,” said Wang Baodong, the Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington.

Mr. Wang was responding to remarks last week by the U.S. ambassador in the Philippines, whose words were interpreted in the Philippine media as taking Manila’s side in its claim over the Spratly Islands, about 200 miles from the Philippines but 1,000 miles from China.

“We hope the U.S. side’s words and deeds would be conducive to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region and not the contrary,” Mr. Wang told Embassy Row.

Ambassador Harry Thomas, addressing an energy conference in Manila, noted that the United States has a treaty obligation to protect the Philippines, saying: “We are partners. We will continue to consult and work with each other on all issues, including the South China Sea and the Spratlys.”

The United States is officially neutral in the dispute, which also involves sovereignty claims in the South China Sea by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. The State Department has called on all six nations to work out their claims under international law.

Mr. Wang’s comment, however, reflected China’s suspicion that some of the other nations are trying to get U.S. support.

“It’s obvious that recently a couple of Asian countries are taking unilateral actions to play up the disputes with the purpose of attracting international eyeballs and applying pressure on China, which is irresponsible,” he said.

“We strongly believe that the best way to resolve such disputes is for countries directly concerned around the South China Sea to have direct bilateral negotiations for peaceful settlement, and outside involvement will only complicate the issue and hinder a smooth resolution.”

China claims sovereignty over 80 percent of the South China Sea, about 648,000 square miles of open water.

The Philippine media last week reported Mr. Thomas‘ remarks as an endorsement of Manila’s claim over the islands.

“The United States threw is support to the Philippines, amid the escalating tensions over the disputed Spratly Islands,” the Manila Sun Star said in a typical comment on the ambassador’s statement.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer added that Mr. Thomas was attempting to answer Filipino lawmakers who questioned Washington’s continued commitment to the 1951 U.S.-Philippine defense treaty.


Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:


• Eduardo Stein, former vice president of Guatemala and now director of the Central American Network of Thought and Advocacy Centers, and three members of the think tank: Roberto Rubio, Enrique Saenz and Ana Marcela Villasuso. They discuss crime and security in the region at a briefing with the Inter-American Dialogue.


• Members of the parliament of Kyrgyzstan: Almazbek Baatyrbekov of the Republican Party, Dastan Bekeshev of the Ar-Namys Party, Elmira Imanalieva of the Ata-Jurt Party, Bakytbek Kalmamatov of the Ata-Meken Party and Daniyar Terbishaliev of the Social Democratic Party. They address Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies.


• Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario of the Philippines, who discusses U.S.-Philippine relations in a briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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