China criticizes Philippines over South China Sea dispute
A protester displays a placard during a rally near the Chinese Consulate in the financial district of Makati city, Philippines, to denounce the alleged deployment of surface-to-air-missiles by China on the disputed islands off South China Sea on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. (AP / Bullit Marquez)
Matthew Pennington, The Associated Press
Published Friday, February 26, 2016 12:14AM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 26, 2016 5:43AM EST
WASHINGTON - China has accused the U.S.-allied Philippines of "political provocation" in seeking international arbitration over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday the decision by Philippine leaders to lodge a case with a tribunal in The Hague was "irresponsible to the Filipino people and the future of the Philippines."
China has refused to participate in the proceedings. A ruling is expected later this year, after the tribunal decided last October that it could hear the case.
The Philippines initiated arbitration in early 2013 after Beijing refused to withdraw its ships from a disputed shoal under a U.S.-brokered deal. It contends that China's massive territorial claims in the strategic waters do not conform with the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and should be declared invalid. The Philippines also asserts that some Chinese-occupied reefs and shoals do not generate, or create a claim to, territorial waters.
Wang blamed the Philippines for shutting the door to negotiations with China over their dispute and seeking arbitration without China's consent.
He said China was prepared to negotiate "tomorrow."
"We are neighbours just separated by a narrow body of water," Wang told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank. "We want to contribute to the Philippines' economic development."
In Manila, presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Philippines would not comment on Wang's remarks.
"The Philippine government respects the independence of the processes of the tribunal; hence, we deem it inappropriate to engage other parties in argumentative discussion while we await the outcome of our petition before the tribunal," he said.
Wang was in Washington this week for talks with his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Differences over the South China Sea have strained U.S.-China relations. The U.S. accuses China of militarizing a key conduit for world trade. China says Washington and its allies are responsible for raising tensions.
China has conducted a massive program of land reclamation over the past two years in the South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Adm. Harry Harris Jr., commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told Congress this week that China has constructed more than 1,210 hectares of artificial land there in little more than two years, compared with about 115 acres reclaimed by the other claimants in more than 45 years.
Wang said China has stopped reclaiming land but other countries are continuing.
Wang also said China's military facilities on islands and reefs are needed for self-defence as other nations have already militarized surrounding shores. China also intends to build civilian infrastructure like weather stations and emergency harbours for ships in danger which would benefit the international community, he said.
Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.