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China says it will not back down on South China Sea

AFP logoAFP 24/01/2017

China warned Washington Tuesday that it would not back down over its claims in the disputed South China Sea, following vows by the Trump administration to defend US and international interests there.

Comments by White House spokesman Sean Spicer about China's artificial islands in the Sea, some capable of military use, have upped the ante in the dispute.

"China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing, adding that the country is "firm in safeguarding our rights and interests."

Members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in May 2016 © Provided by AFP Members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in May 2016

"The United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue."

Spicer said Monday that the US "is going to make sure we protect our interests" in the Sea.

"If those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, yeah, we'll make sure we defend international interests from being taken over by one country," he said.

Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said China's access to some South China Sea islands might be blocked, raising the prospect of a military confrontation © Provided by AFP Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said China's access to some South China Sea islands might be blocked, raising the prospect of a military confrontation

Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said last week China's access to the islands might be blocked -- raising the prospect of a military confrontation.

China lays claim to a vast swathe of the South China Sea within a so-called "nine dash line," including waters claimed by several of its neighbours.

Under President Barack Obama's administration, Washington insisted it was neutral on the question of sovereignty over the islets, reefs and shoals.

But, while calling for the dispute to be resolved under international law, the US supported freedom of navigation by sending naval patrols through Chinese-claimed waters.

Hua said China "firmly upholds freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea in accordance with international law" and urged the US to "fully respect the efforts of regional countries to safeguard peace and stability".

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