China told the United States to "shut up" and stay out of its dispute with countries bordering the South China Sea, after a State Department spokesman called for a peaceful settlement to the conflicting claims in the energy-rich, strategic sea lanes.
"We are entirely entitled to shout at the United States, 'Shut up,'" said the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The China Daily, the English-language offshoot of the paper, added that China is the real victim of aggression, even though the growing military power is surrounded by weaker nations.
"China has been bullied and is reacting to other countries' provocations lately," the China Daily said.
China's outrage underscored its diplomatic tensions with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam over the oil and gas resources on the seabed of the waterway used by one-third of the world's shipping.
Through its newspapers, Beijing also accused the United States of taking sides with the other nations and encouraging them to challenge China's claims.
"If the White House is interested in restoring peace in the South China Sea, it should talk the real trouble-makers into behaving," the China Daily said.
"The truth, however, is that [the United States] has been instigating the other countries in the disputes and even arming them, while blaming China for its defensive moves."
Chinese authorities were apparently irked after the State Department last week warned that the recent establishment of a Chinese garrison on an island in the South China Sea and other moves by Beijing "risk further escalating tensions in the region."
Patrick Ventrell, the State Department's deputy press spokesman, said the South China Sea disputes should be resolved "without coercion, without intimidation, without threats and without the use of force."
He added that said the United States does "not take a position on competing territorial claims" and has "no territorial ambitions in the South China Sea."
Mr. Ventrell's remarks triggered a flurry of activity over the weekend in Beijing, although his statements merely echoed assertions made last month by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia.
Chinese authorities quickly summoned the U.S. Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Wang to complain about the statements from Washington and began preparing editorials for its party newspapers.
"The Statement by the U.S. side confuses right and wrong, strongly misleads public opinion, sends the wrong signal and should be sternly refuted," the People's Daily said.
The State Department dismissed China's assertions on Monday.
"We thought it was a very comprehensive and clear statement," Mr. Ventrell said.
Mrs. Clinton last month pushed for China and other nations to come together at the ASEAN conference and agree upon a "code of conduct" for diplomatically resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But talks sputtered in the face of Chinese desires to resolve disputes unilaterally, on a case-by-case basis with its neighbors.
Claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea have been a source of tension for decades but began bubbling into the international limelight last year when Vietnam and the Philippines asserted their oil and gas exploration activities were being disrupted by Chinese boats.
U.S. officials have since argued that China is taking a coercive economic posture towards its smaller and financially weaker neighbors in an attempt to gain total control of the region.
Analysts have suggested joint U.S.-Philippine military drills, along with an expansion of U.S.-Australian military relations last year, were driven in part by Washington's desire to send a message to China about its growing military presence in the region.
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