Obama ‘Drops in on’ Chinese Foreign Minister as China Asserts Itself in South China Sea

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during a press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department in Washington, DC

President Barack Obama “dropped in” on a meeting in the White House between National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on potential sanctions on North Korea, as Chinese government spokespeople condemned the United States for announcing enhanced freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

Wang personally asserted that China has owned the entire South China Sea “since ancient times” during a joint press conference with his counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, on Tuesday.

No other nation in the international community supports China’s claims of ownership in the region, and five others contend that the territory China claims is actually theirs: Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Brunei. As China does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, Beijing has used Taiwan’s claims over some of the Spratly Islands as evidence that mainland China should have sovereignty over the region.

Wang stated in his press conference with Kerry that China would not stop its military activities in the region.“The islands in the South China Sea have been China’s territory since ancient times, and China has the right to safeguard its territorial sovereignty,” he told reporters. Kerry had promised a “very serious talk” with Chinese officials on the matter in the near future, but in remarks Wednesday, he urged Vietnam and the Philippines as well as China “not to engage in any unilateral steps of reclamation.”

In the past month, China has installed an advanced radar system on the Spratly Islands (contested by the Philippines) and placed both surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets in the Paracel Islands (contested by Vietnam).

After asserting dominance over the South China Sea, Wang met with National Security Adviser Rice, in a meeting the Agence France-Presse reports President Obama “dropped in on.” “The White House statement added that Obama joined the meeting between Rice and Yi ‘to underscore his interest in building a durable, constructive, and productive US-China relationship,'” AFP notes.

The meeting between Wang and Rice is believed to have been significantly more cooperative, as the two discussed how to counter North Korea’s increasingly belligerent behavior and prevent it from using advanced nuclear weapons to attack South Korea or the United States. The two reportedly agreed on a draft for a UN resolution imposing new sanctions on the communist dictatorship. A joint statement following the meeting asserted that both were united “on the importance of a strong and united international response to North Korea’s provocations, including through a UN Security Council resolution that goes beyond previous resolutions.”

Following the meeting, however, the Chinese Foreign Ministry was again on the attack. Responding to comments by Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, that the United States would be engaging in more freedom of navigation operations in the region, a spokesman for the ministry accused the United States of creating a “brouhaha” and Harris personally of using the South China Sea issue to procure more funding from Congress. “I have noted that according to media reports, Adm. Harris made his remarks while seeking additional defense budget funds from Congress,” spokesman Wu Qian said Thursday, “We don’t interfere in your seeking defense budget funds, but you can’t carelessly smear China while asking for more money. Wu also accused the United States of “militarizing” the South China Sea, dismissing China’s extensive military buildup as “necessary” in the face of any American presence in the region.