China still building islands in disputed waters: think-tank

U.S. South Korea navy against North Korea

A maritime dispute in the South China Sea flared up on Thursday when a U.S. destroyer sailed near man-made island claimed by China, a move Beijing labeled a "provocation" and the United States called appropriate under worldwide law.

The South China Sea is filled with small islands, reefs and shoals and there are many territorial disputes between countries in the area.

In a statement in Beijing, Spokesperson of Chinese Foreign Ministry, Gen Shuang called upon the US administration to refrain from any further action detrimental to the China-US mutual trust and regional stability.

Beijing has been sensitive to any further engagement by what it calls "outside parties" in the South China Sea, especially after a ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague a year ago that invalidated Beijing's claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.

In turn, the Chinese Defense Ministry urged Washington to stop "provocations" in the South China Sea.

Geng said, "China has the firm determination to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests".

The Philippines is increasingly reluctant to allow the United States to use its territory to "deter" China or to jointly exercise with it in the South China Sea.

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And in a move that could challenge Beijing's interests in the world's busiest and most strategic shipping lanes, defence ministers from the United States and Vietnam have pledged to deepen military ties for their common interests in the South China Sea.

Mabini (Johnson) Reef part of the disputed islands China has built up in the South China Sea.

"Freedom of navigation is guaranteed and anyone can do it so we just need to monitor", Padilla said in the same Palace press briefing.

Perturbed by China's assertiveness, foreign ministers from the U.S., Australia and Japan released a joint statement, calling on "China and the Philippines to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal's 2016 award in the Philippines-China arbitration, as it is final and legally binding on both parties".

Increasing activity by China's rapidly modernizing military has boosted tension in East Asia since the start of the year, as North Korea persists with ballistic missile and nuclear bomb tests that have stoked fears in Japan, the United States and elsewhere. The South China Sea issues were a prominent focus, and the results of these meetings indicated a new low in USA diplomatic influence. According to the ruling, the disputed Spratly Islets are not an exceptional economic zone.

The statement Friday does not mention any specific actions China would be willing to take, although some Chinese scholars and state media have called on Beijing to take on a shuttle diplomacy role to facilitate talks between the US and North Korea. Nicole Schwegman said all Navy operations "are conducted in accordance with global law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever worldwide law allows". Indeed, Philippine Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano said in apparent response, "We appreciate not being told what to do".

China has refused to recognise a ruling by The Hague in 2016 that its historic "nine-dash line" claim to sovereignty over numerous islands is invalid, and is trying to reach its own settlement with rival claimants.

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