Envoy dismisses building freeze in S. China Sea

Updated: 2014-08-05 06:50

By Zhang Yunbi (China Daily USA)

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A senior Chinese diplomat has shrugged off calls from Washington and Manila for a freeze on construction in the South China Sea, saying the proposals are "very unrealistic and completely unnecessary".

Yi Xianliang, deputy director-general of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Monday that the maritime disputes in the region have been exaggerated and the problems are distracting from the cooperative agenda between China and the Southeast Asian nations.

"I believe our own Asian people have our own wisdom to deal with the problems," Yi said in Beijing.

A high-level meeting involving foreign ministers from China and Southeast Asia is due to kick off later this week. Observers say the United States and the Philippines are planning to derail the plenary discussions by making China look like a villain who says no to seemingly helpful proposals.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi will attend the ASEAN Regional Forum in Myanmar from Friday to Monday.

Yi warned that the functions and nature of the forum are facing challenges.

"When more attention is paid to the disputes, the cooperative agenda will be ignored more easily," said Yi, a longtime negotiator in China's border and maritime issues with neighbors.

The US - never a claimant to the islands in the sea - passed a resolution on July 11, urging all nations to refrain from "destabilizing activities".

The following day Michael Fuchs, a senior official at the US State Department, detailed a proposal for a voluntary freeze on activities that he said could escalate tensions, according to The Associated Press.

In response, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei underscored on July 15 that since the 1970s, some nations have illegally occupied territory on China's Nansha Islands. These countries have boosted their illegal presence by carrying out construction projects and enhancing their military capacity.

Echoing Washington's "freeze" proposal, a Philippine foreign department statement said on Friday the government will present a "triple action plan" at the foreign ministers' gathering.

The first of the three steps will call for an immediate "moratorium on specific activities that escalate tension", such as construction of structures that raise tensions in the waters, local media reported.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said Washington is "not yet qualified" to propose a solution to the disputes.

"Actually, Washington's actions in taking sides are one of the origins of the tensions in the South China Sea in recent years," he added.

Yi Xianliang, the deputy director-general of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs, also questioned the role of the US.

"Is it raising a solution in the capacity of a claimant in the South China Sea issue? It is an issue of qualification."