China warned Japan on Friday to stay out of a growing dispute with its neighbors over the South China Sea, as the Philippines implicitly accused Beijing of delaying talks aimed at a solution.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts of it from Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei in one of Asia’s most intractable disputes and a possible flashpoint. It also has a separate maritime dispute with Japan over islands, which Taiwan also claims.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday expressed concern about tensions that he said were stoked by China’s “unilateral drilling” after China moved an oil rig into disputed waters.
“The relevant Japanese statement neglects reality and confuses the facts, and takes a political motive to interfere with the situation in the South China Sea for a secret purpose,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) told a daily briefing. “We require the Japanese side to consistently take realistic actions to protect the region’s peace and stability.”
The Philippines blamed a slowdown in talks on ending the disputes on “construction” changing the ground rules, an apparent reference to China.
The Philippines is pushing for a “code of conduct.”
“The code of conduct has been long in coming, we have been discussing this for the past seven or eight years and we’re also wondering why there is a delay,” Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Laura del Rosario said. “Are we changing the environment so that when we are ready to discuss the code of conduct, the environment has changed?”
Del Rosario, speaking at a security outlook session of the World Economic Forum, said there had been “changes” on the ground since talks began, without specifically mentioning China.
“There are a lot of buildups, a lot of construction going on, until we realize people are already doing some kind of a fencing,” she said.
Last week, the Philippine foreign ministry released aerial surveillance pictures of a reef showing what it said was Chinese reclamation and the building of what appeared to be an airstrip.
A Malaysian diplomatic source said China was deliberately slowing down the talks.
“China has been reluctant to even talk about the code of conduct,” the diplomatic source said. “It’s a carrot to dangle in the distance. We are dealing with a superpower.”
In Vietnam, emotions have run so high a 67-year-old woman killed herself by setting herself on fire, local government officials said.
The woman set herself ablaze at about 6am on Friday in front of the Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, Le Truong Hai Hieu, a senior city official, said by telephone.
“She carried banners saying ‘Against China in Vietnam’s sea’ and ‘I will bless Vietnam’s marine police,’” Hieu said.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said his government was considering various “defense options” against China, including legal action, following the deployment of the oil rig.
Dung’s comments, given in a written response to questions from reporters, were the first time he has suggested Vietnam would take legal measures, and drew an angry response from China.
Anti-Chinese violence flared in Vietnam last week after the US$1 billion deepwater rig owned by China’s state-run CNOOC oil company was parked 240km off the coast of Vietnam.
Hanoi says the rig is in its 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf. Beijing has said the rig is completely within Chinese waters.
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