Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai warned the United States to keep out of the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea, telling reporters today that the row should be dealt with solely among the parties involved.
‘Regarding the role of the United States in this, the United States is not a claimant state to the dispute…So it is better for the United States to leave the dispute to be sorted out between the claimant states,’ Cui was quoted by The New York Times as saying.
Indeed, Cui went on to warn that 'some countries now are playing with fire…And I hope the US won't be burned by this fire.'
The remarks follow growing tensions between China and other claimants to territory in the area, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines. Both countries have accused Chinese vessels of harassment, and both have indicated that they would in fact like outside powers to become involved.
On Friday, Vietnam and the US issued a joint statement calling for ‘peace, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation’ and ‘a collaborative, diplomatic process without coercion or the use of force.’
Such statements are unlikely to go down well in Beijing, as Chinese policy makers continue to resist outside involvement in favour of dealing bilaterally with countries involved. This point was underscored last July by China’s angry response to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s suggestion in a speech in Hanoi that a binding code of conduct be introduced, as well as a process for resolving the competing claims. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi responded that this was an ‘attack’ on China.
The reason Beijing shuns multilateral approaches is obvious – a powerful China has a much better chance of imposing its will if it can tackle other nations one at a time. It’s with this reality in mind that some commentators have called for Southeast Asian nations to work together to bolster their claims.
The problem, of course, is that these countries are not just in dispute with China, but with each other.