China terms US criticism as slander

US urges China to stop meddling with oil, gas ops

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BEIJING/NEW YORK: Remarks by US officials on China’s role in the South China Sea are slanderous, its foreign ministry said on Monday, after the United States voiced concern over reports of Chinese interference with oil and gas activities in the disputed waters.

China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested, all or in part, by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

On Saturday, the US State Department said China’s repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states threatened regional energy security and undermined the free and open Indo-Pacific energy market.

US President Donald Trump’s hawkish national security adviser John Bolton also said on Twitter that China’s coercive behavior toward its Southeast Asian neighbors was counterproductive and threatened regional peace and stability, echoing earlier comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said such comments by Bolton and Pompeo were baseless, adding that the United States and other “external forces” were stirring up trouble in the South China Sea.

The United States has weighed in on an ongoing stand-off between Vietnam and China over Chinese operations in the South China Sea, urging Beijing to cease interfering with oil and gas activities in the disputed waters.

The statement from the US State Department on Saturday came a day after Hanoi accused a Chinese oil exploration ship and other vessels of operating in waters in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, and demanded their removal. China has not responded so far.

The stand-off involved nine Vietnamese vessels and three Chinese coast guard vessels that were escorting the oil exploration ship, said two Washington-based think-tanks last Wednesday.

State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said in Saturday’s statement, China’s repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states threaten regional energy security and undermine the free and open Indo-Pacific energy market.

The US has repeatedly spoken out against what it sees as China’s increasingly muscular assertion of its claims to the South China Sea. Beijing claims nearly all the waters, including territorial waters of Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, despite a 2016 ruling from an independent arbitration tribunal that its claims were legally baseless.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in March that China, by blocking development in the South China Sea through coercive measures, was preventing Asean members from accessing more than US$2.5 trillion (S$3.4 trillion) in recoverable energy reserves.

China’s repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states threaten regional energy security and undermine the free and open Indo-Pacific energy market.

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