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South China Sea: Beijing urges Washington to refrain from interfering in disputes

Beijing urged Washington to refrain from interfering in China's maritime disputes with its neighbours in their latest talks that were made public on Tuesday.

Hong Liang, the Chinese foreign ministry's director general for boundary and ocean affairs, and Mark Lambert, the US State Department's China coordinator and deputy assistant secretary for China and Taiwan, held a virtual meeting on Friday.

A US State Department readout said the two sides had exchanged views on the situation in the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

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The talks coincided with two days of People's Liberation Army drills that simulated a blockade of Taiwan. The military exercises came days after the inauguration of the self-ruled island's new leader, William Lai Ching-te of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

Beijing said the exercises served as "punishment" for Taiwanese separatist forces advocating for independence and were a serious warning against interference and provocation by external forces.

Friday's meeting touched on the drills, with Washington saying it "shared deep concerns" and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, according to a US State Department statement.

Beijing urged Washington to stop supporting "Taiwan independence", which it said "poses the greatest threat to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait".

"The US should immediately cease its support and indulgence of 'Taiwan independence' forces and fulfil its commitment of not supporting Taiwan independence," the Chinese readout said.

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of China, to be reunited by force if necessary. Most countries, including the US, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, but Washington is opposed to any attempt to take the island by force and is committed to supplying it with weapons.

Hong Liang, the Chinese foreign ministry's director general for boundary and ocean affairs, and Mark Lambert, the US State Department's China coordinator and deputy assistant secretary for China and Taiwan, met in person in Beijing in November. Photo: Weibo/央廣軍事 alt=Hong Liang, the Chinese foreign ministry's director general for boundary and ocean affairs, and Mark Lambert, the US State Department's China coordinator and deputy assistant secretary for China and Taiwan, met in person in Beijing in November. Photo: Weibo/央廣軍事>

The two sides on Friday also discussed maritime disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea, where Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with other countries.

Expressing its "serious concerns", Beijing said US actions in the waters surrounding China had infringed upon its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights.

"We urged the US to refrain from interfering in maritime disputes between China and its neighbours, and not to form exclusive blocs trying to contain China through maritime situations," the Chinese statement said.

Washington said Beijing had engaged in "dangerous and destabilising actions" that disrupted the freedom of navigation of other countries on the high seas, according to the US readout.

"[We] reaffirmed the United States' ironclad alliance commitments and steadfast support for upholding the international law of the sea," it said.

China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea - claims that overlap with those of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

In recent months there have been frequent tense confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the disputed Spratly Islands, near Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal.

Tensions are also simmering between Beijing and Tokyo over the contested Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea - known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan. Chinese vessels were seen near the Tokyo-controlled islands on Monday, according to the Japanese coastguard. It said they had been in the area for 158 days, the longest time since the Japanese government nationalised the islands in 2012.

Friday's US-China talks were the second bilateral consultation on maritime affairs since a meeting in Beijing in November. Chinese and US military officials also held two days of talks on maritime and air security in April in Hawaii.

"The two sides agreed to maintain dialogue and communication, avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation, and control maritime risks," the Chinese statement on Tuesday said.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2024 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2024. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.