Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China summoned the number two diplomat at the US Embassy in Beijing to protest recent US government statements on the South China Sea. A few days ago, Washington criticised China's decision to build a military garrison at the town of Sansha, which it set up in June on Woody Island in the Paracels in order to assert its control in the Asia-Pacific region. For now, the two sides are only trading words, but tensions are high.
A few weeks ago, China established the city on the remote island and is now planning to militarise it in an area that is contended by both Vietnam and the Philippines. Hanoi and Manila, a US ally, protested the move.
"We are concerned by the increase in tensions in the South China Sea," US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in the statement Friday, due to China's actions in Sansha, which run "counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences".
Beijing responded immediately. Over the weekend, Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Zhang Kunsheng called in the US Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Wang, saying the State Department statement "sent a seriously wrong message" on the South China Sea. The US statement "ignores facts and deliberately confuses right and wrong," interferes "in the internal affairs of China, and reflects the US ambition of manipulating Asian affairs".
For its part, in a no holds barred editorial, the mouthpiece of the People's Daily told Washington to "shut up".
Meanwhile, in Hanoi, the government continues to crack down on anti-Chinese protests by Vietnamese patriots and nationalists. Police yesterday arrested 50 people in the capital as they protested against Beijing. Arrests were made before and after the demonstration, four well-known bloggers and an activist were among those detained.
Vietnam's Communist government remains ambiguous towards China, officially against Beijing's imperialist policies, but equally opposed to domestic nationalist demonstrations.
In the South China Sea China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Philippines and Malaysia are vying for control of potentially oil-rich Spratly and Paracel Islands.
Manila and Hanoi accuse Beijing of pursing aggressive and "imperialist" policies, which have led to clashes involving fishing boats from all three nations.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing went up a notch in April when Chinese patrol boats stopped Filipino Navy ships off the Scarborough Shoal from pursuing Chinese fishing trawlers that had crossed into Filipino waters.
Beijing's hegemonic goals are a source of concern for the United States, which has boosted its naval presence in the Pacific.