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Kerry says US will not accept restrictions in South China Sea

Jay Directo / AFP | Protesters rally in front of the Chinese Consulate in Manila on July 10, 2015

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday accused China of not allowing freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed South China Sea, despite giving assurances that such freedoms would not be impeded.

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Addressing a regional meeting in Kuala Lumpur that has been dominated by the South China Sea, Kerry said China’s construction of facilities for “military purposes” on man-made islands was raising tensions and risked “militarisation” by other claimant states.

“Freedom of navigation and overflight are among the essential pillars of international maritime law,” Kerry told the East Asia Summit attended by foreign ministers from Southeast Asia, China, Japan and other nations.

“Despite assurances that these freedoms would be respected, we have seen warnings issued and restrictions attempted in recent months,” Kerry said.

“Let me be clear: The United States will not accept restrictions on freedom of navigation and overflight, or other lawful uses of the sea.”

China has repeatedly warned Philippine military aircraft away from the artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, Philippine military officials have said.

The Chinese navy also issued eight warnings to the crew of a U.S. P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft when it conducted overflights in the area in May, according to CNN, which was aboard the U.S. aircraft.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.

The ASEAN group of Southeast Asian nations said some members had “serious concerns” about land reclamation in the South China Sea, according to a draft of the final communique to be issued at the end of their separate talks in Kuala Lumpur this week and seen by Reuters.

Members states had wrangled hard before finally agreeing on the wording of the communique.

The communique is expected to say that South China Sea matters were extensively discussed.

It will also say that China and ASEAN countries would proceed to the “next stage” of consultations on a code of conduct that is intended to bind them to detailed rules of behaviour at sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday that Beijing had halted land reclamation in the South China Sea and that ASEAN and China shared a desire to resolve the thorny issue through dialogue.

In June, China said it would soon complete some of its reclamation in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, while adding it would continue to build facilities on the man-made islands.

Kerry said he hoped China had stopped island building, but that what was needed was an end to “militarisation”.

He added that Wang’s commitment to resolving the South China Sea issue had not been as “fulsome” as some had hoped.

“In my meeting with ... Wang Yi, he indicated I think a different readiness of China to try to resolve some of this, though I think it was still not as fulsome as many of us would like to see,” Kerry told reporters.

“But it’s a beginning, and it may open up some opportunity for conversation on this in months ahead. We’ll have to wait and see.”

(REUTERS)

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