China reacted with anger Tuesday after the Group of Seven foreign ministers released a statement a day earlier voicing strong opposition to “unilateral actions” in the East and South China seas.
“We urge the Group of Seven member states to honor their commitment of not taking sides on issues involving territorial disputes,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
China’s massive land-reclamation projects in the South China Sea — as well as the apparent militarization of some of the islands — has stoked concerns about its intentions as territorial disputes there simmer. Beijing has a separate dispute with Tokyo in the East China Sea over the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyus in China.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in its statement Tuesday that, with the world’s economic recovery still weak, the Group of Seven “should focus on global economic governance and cooperation, rather than hyping up maritime issues.”
“China’s stance on the East and South China seas are consistent and clear,” the statement said.
In their statement on maritime security released Monday in the atomic bomb-hit city of Hiroshima, the foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States expressed strong opposition to “intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions.”
The statement also stressed the importance of the “peaceful management and settlement of maritime disputes … through applicable internationally recognized legal dispute settlement mechanisms, including arbitration.”
Though the statement did not specifically target China over its territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and a handful of East Asian littoral states in the South China Sea, its focus on arbitration was a clear jab at Beijing and its pending case with the Philippines.
The case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague focuses on the legality of Beijing’s “nine-dash line” claims over a broad swath of the South China Sea that it has labeled as “historic waters.” A decision on the arbitration case at The Hague is expected sometime in the next few months.
“The G-7 statement shows just how worried the world’s leading economies are about China’s assertive behavior in the South and East China seas,” said Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“China might by now be getting concerned that its actions are generating such sustained and public negative reactions.”
Beijing has said it is committed to resolving disputes with countries through bilateral negotiations “on the basis of respecting historical facts” and reiterated its stance Tuesday that it would neither accept nor participate in any arbitration “illegally forced upon it.”
“We urge the G-7 member states to fully respect the efforts made by countries in the region, stop making irresponsible remarks and all irresponsible actions, and truly play a constructive role for regional peace and stability,” Lu said.
In an editorial by the state-run Xinhua News Agency after the G-7 foreign ministers summit wrapped up Monday, Beijing slammed Tokyo, claiming that Japan had “hijacked” the platform in an attempt to “contain” China.
Xinhua said the maritime statement was the result of “consistent efforts of the Japanese government to unilaterally hype up” the South China Sea issue, despite none of the G-7 ministers being party to the dispute.
While Beijing has claimed that Tokyo overplayed its hand at the G-7 meeting, the push by Japan appears to have helped bolster the position of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.
“Bottom-line, I see this as part of a coherent maritime security strategy by the Abe government that features a proactive Japan in managing regional security affairs, and that locks international attention on China’s handling of its territorial claims in the region,” said Sebastian Maslow, an assistant professor at Tohoku University’s graduate school of law in Sendai.
The South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in global trade passes each year, is home to rich fishing grounds and is believed to hold oil and gas deposits, though how much remains unclear.