China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi rejected neighboring countries' territorial claims in the South China Sea Thursday, as Asian foreign ministers at a summit warned that land reclamation activities had “increased tensions,” in the region.
Wang rejected territorial claims from both Japan and the Philippines to parts of the South China Sea, speaking at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). He said that the Philippines had “illegally occupied” islands and reefs in the region, and added that China was “entitled to defend its own sovereignty, rights and interests,” according to a report from China's state-run news agency Xinhua. He also branded an attempt by the Philippines to have its territorial dispute arbitrated by an international panel as an attempt to smear China.
Wang also had strong words for Japan, which has argued that artificial islands and reefs in the South China Sea do not produce legal territorial rights for the owner. “Japan should review its own words and deeds before criticizing others. Unlike Japan, China has claimed its right to the South China Sea a long time ago, which does not require enhancement through land reclamation," Wang said.
Xinhua also reported that Wang argued that China was a de facto victim in the South China Sea dispute, saying: "To maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, we [China] have exercised great restraint."
However, in a final communique following the ARF summit, regional leaders noted "the serious concerns expressed... on the land reclamations in the South China Sea."
It said the land works "have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea," without specifically singling out Beijing, AFP reported.
The statement came just hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on China to halt all of its activities in the disputed region.
"What’s really needed, though, is an agreement to stop not just the reclamation, but the large-scale construction and militarization. We’ve put forward a proposal that people stop all three,” Kerry told the Wall Street Journal.
China claimed on Wednesday that it had stopped all construction on the disputed Spratly Islands, which China calls the Nansha Islands, though this has not been independently verified.
"I hope it’s true,” Kerry reportedly said, in response to China's assertion that it had stopped building artificial islands in the South China Sea. “I don’t know yet.”