South China Sea row intensifies as China expands territorial claims in regions such as Spratley Islands. Photograph: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images
Beijing accuses Washington’s intervention in the region of ‘fanning the flames and provoking division’
state-run media has lambasted the United States over its intervention in the South China Sea row, highlighting the alarming escalation of a long-running dispute.
Furious commentaries ordered Washington to “shut up” and accused it of “fanning the flames and provoking division” in the region. The foreign ministry in Beijing called in a senior US diplomat at the weekend over the State Department comments.
Analysts fear the South China Sea has become a major potential flashpoint, as tensions have risen sharply between China – which claims almost all the sea – and Vietnam and the Philippines. Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts of the sea, which contains valuable energy reserves and fisheries and sees an estimated $5 trillion of cargo – half the world’s shipping tonnage – pass through its sea lanes annually.
“While the likelihood of major conflict remains low, all of the trends are in the wrong direction, and prospects of resolution are diminishing,” theInternational Crisis Group warned in a recent report on the six-party dispute.
Beijing’s most recent moves include offering oil and gas exploration blocks for bidding and establishing a new city, Sansha, which boasts at most a few thousand residents and 5 square miles (13 square kilometres) of land spread over several tiny islands – yet lays claim to 772,000 square miles (2 million square kilometres) of sea and its own military garrison.
It prompted the US to publicly reenter the row, with a statement expressing concern at the growing tensions and singling out Beijing’s role. The city and garrison “run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region,” said Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesperson at the State Department.