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article imageChina asserts sovereignty over disputed South China Sea islands

By Nathan Salant     Aug 2, 2016 in World
Beijing - China pledged Sunday to defend its declared sovereignty over islands in crucial shipping lanes in the South China Sea despite competing claims from other nations.
Defense Minister Chang Wanquan also repeated China's rejection of a United Nations arbitration panel's decision that Beijing's assertion of sovereignty over the islands, many of which it created by piling sand atop coral reefs, was invalid.
"Territorial integrity and maritime rights and interests will be defended," he said, at a Beijing celebration marking the 89th anniversary of the creation of the Chinese Liberation Army, according to the Associated Press.
Chang's remarks again raised the specter of a superpower confrontation between China and the United States, which has sent warships through the South China Sea to defend what it terms freedom of navigation in the region.
Smaller countries aligned with the U.S. rely on the sea for food and economic sustenance, including the Philippines, which brought suit against China, and Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
The area also has the potential for vast underground oil and natural gas reserves, the AP said.
But Chang said Sunday that China considered the area to be among its "state sovereignty, national security and development interests."
However, Chang also said China would "definitely cherish peace," an indication that the world's most populous nation was open to dialogue on its territorial claims.
On the other hand, China also announced Sunday that it planned joint exercises with the Russian military in September.
Defense Ministry spokesman Col.. Yang Yujun told reporters that the exercises were designed to increase cooperation between the countries and raise their ability to respond to threats,
Yang said the exercises weren't targeted at any third parties. He didn't disclose the specific location, and some areas of the South China Sea are not disputed.
Russia has supported China's position in its dispute with the Philippines and other South China Sea nations, the AP said, and wants nations outside the region, like the United States, to remain neutral.
But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking last week at an ASEAN ministers meeting in Laos, said the "rule of law must be upheld" in the dispute, presumably putting the U.S. on the side of Philippines even though he denied that.
Vietnam's foreign minister, Le Hoai Trung, told the AP that his country was prepared for direct negotiations with China.
"Our consistent policy is to settle disputes through peaceful means in accordance with national laws and United Nations (conventions and laws), and we attach quite (a lot of) importance to bilateral negotiations," he said.
More about China, South china sea, Navigation, Shipping, Philippines
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