US 'won't take sides' in South China Sea

Updated: 2011-07-11 07:09

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The United States will maintain its presence in the South China Sea but will show no prejudice toward any side involved in the territorial dispute there, the top US military officer said on Sunday.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, also expected the US and Chinese militaries to develop "more tangible relations" that match Beijing's rising role and its deepening relations with Washington.

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"The worry, among others that I have, is that the ongoing incidents could spark a miscalculation, and an outbreak that no one anticipated," Mullen said at a news conference at the start of his four-day visit to China on Sunday morning, referring to rising tensions in the South China Sea, where several nations in the region hold territorial claims.

"We have an enduring presence here, we have an enduring responsibility. We seek to strongly support the peaceful resolution of these differences," he said.

The visit came after the US and the Philippines held an 11-day joint naval exercise in the South China Sea.

In another move, the US, Australia and Japan reportedly held a trilateral military exercise off the coast of Brunei near the South China Sea on Saturday.

Meanwhile, China and the Philippines are trying to ease tensions, with the two foreign ministers agreeing on Friday in Beijing not to let disagreements affect "the broader picture of friendship and cooperation".

Mullen arrived in Beijing early on Sunday. His visit is in response to the trip to the US in May by Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army Chen Bingde.

On Monday, Mullen will hold talks with Chen, and the two generals will jointly meet reporters. The admiral is also due to meet other high-level Chinese government and military leaders including Vice-President Xi Jinping.

On Sunday, Mullen told students at Renmin University of China after giving a speech there that despite Washington's commitment to staying in the region, it holds no prejudice toward any side in the dispute.

"But actually the prejudice the US holds on this issue is obvious," said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center of American Studies at Renmin University of China.

"We have a good atmosphere for China-US military exchanges these days and Admiral Mullen has put his view in a very courteous way, but Washington's stance is clear," Shi said, citing Mullen's speech, in which he said that Beijing should be more "responsible" and that the right of free navigation in international waters should be protected in the South China Sea.

The Chinese government and military had previously challenged Washington's assertion, saying that free navigation in the South China Sea was never affected.

Still, Shi said he also saw the desire of the two militaries to deepen and stabilize their ties.

Mullen said that exchanges between Chinese and US militaries should take into account the fact that China is no longer an "emerging power" but already a "world power".

And it is natural for a country with stronger economic capabilities to develop its military, Mullen said, adding that means more responsibilities and greater transparency.

"That is the reason why I'm here to visit General Chen we need to build more tangible relations between the two militaries," Mullen said.

Wang Chenyan and Reuters contributed to this story.


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