Ambassador of China to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming told the annual Induction Programme for Commonwealth Diplomats organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat Wednesday that regional powers had made major strides toward resolving tensions in the South China Sea by themselves.
"Yet to everyone's confusion, some big countries outside the region did not seem to appreciate the peace and tranquillity in the South China Sea," Liu said. "They sent warships and aircraft all the way to the South China Sea to create trouble."
The ambassador brought attention to the efforts between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to settle regional disputes among themselves. Six nations claim at least some of the South China Sea: China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. ASEAN membership largely overlaps with that list: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
In February, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told reporters that China and ASEAN had begun a "mechanism" through which "various sides will have a full and in-depth exchange of views" on implementing a Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea "and advancing maritime practical cooperation and consultations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea."
"Thanks to the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, the current situation in the South China Sea has stabilized and taken on a sound momentum. China and ASEAN countries have the willingness and confidence to build on such momentum of dialogue and cooperation to achieve more positive progress and results and further cement the sound situation in the region," Lu said, according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
Wednesday in London, Ambassador Liu attacked the so-called "freedom of navigation operations" practiced by countries such as the United States as "a serious infringement of China's sovereignty." During freedom of navigation operations in the sea, the US sails ships through areas held to be international waters, over which no country has control, effectively rejecting Chinese claims to the region's atolls as fictitious. China claims the islands are a legitimate part of its territory and therefore that it controls the sea area surrounding them as part of its own territorial waters.
While the US began these maneuvers in 2015, their frequency has increased under the administration of US President Donald Trump, the South China Morning Post noted. The US has also tried to convince other nations to join in the practice and flout Chinese claims.
This past June, Britain and France announced they would send ships to take part. Earlier this month, the Chinese government complained about the "provocative" passage of the British amphibious transport dock HMS Albion through waters near the Paracel Islands en route to Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, Sputnik reported.
In addition, the Japanese submarine Kuroshio, along with the Japanese helicopter carrier Kaga and two destroyers, the Inazuma and Suzutsuki, conducted an anti-submarine warfare exercise in the South China Sea on September 13, although Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday the drill was "not at all" intended as a counter to China's activities in the region, Filipino new agency ABS-CBN reported Tuesday.
However, US military leaders have been slowly admitting that the sun is setting on their ability to stop China from claiming the islands. Before he became head of the US' Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip S. Davidson said in May that "China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States."
Another US Navy admiral, Rear Adm. Michael McDevitt, likewise concluded, "As China's military power grows relative to the United States, and it will, questions will also grow regarding America's ability to deter Beijing's use of force in settling its unresolved territorial issues," the New York Times reported Thursday.
"Freedom of navigation is not a license to do whatever one wishes," Liu said Wednesday in London; his remarks were later published on the website of the Chinese embassy in Britain.
"Such ‘freedom' must be stopped," Liu said. "Otherwise the South China Sea will never be tranquil."