Kerry says no military solution to South China Sea dispute

August 31, 2016 3:51 AM EDT

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry adjusts his ear phones during a joint news conference with India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (not pictured) in New Delhi, India, August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

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By Lesley Wroughton

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Wednesday on China and the Philippines to abide by an international tribunal's decision on the disputed South China Sea and said there was no military solution to the problem.

Kerry's remarks, made in a visit to India, came ahead of a G20 summit in China on Sunday and Monday that could be overshadowed by arguments over everything from territorial disputes to protectionism by China, diplomats say.

An arbitration court in The Hague ruled in July that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea. China dismissed the case lodged by the Philippines and rejected the ruling.

"The United States continues to call on China and the Philippines to abide by the tribunal's recent decision which is final and legally binding on both parties," Kerry told a gathering of students in New Delhi.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.

China has vowed to take all measures needed to protect its sovereignty over the South China Sea and says its actions there, which have included land reclamation and construction of air fields and docks on reefs, are peaceful.

China has blamed the United States and its allies in the region, such as Japan and Australia, for stoking tension.

The United States and Japan have no territorial claims in the South China Sea and say their priority is freedom of navigation.

Kerry said the United States supported diplomatic efforts to resolve territorial disputes to which there was "no military solution".

"We are also interested in not fanning the flames of conflict but rather trying to encourage the parties to resolve their disputes and claims through the legal process and through diplomacy," Kerry said.

The United States and India, in a joint statement issued on Tuesday after security talks, reiterated the importance of freedom of navigation and over flight in the South China Sea.

They said states should resolve disputes through peaceful means and "exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability".

U.S. ally the Philippines welcomed the tribunal's ruling in July but it is keen not to anger China. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he will hold talks with China on the issue.

Duterte is attending a summit next week in Laos of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which both U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang are also going to.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, asked in Beijing whether Li would meet Duterte there, said it was not clear what bilateral meetings might take place.

Liu did not refer directly to the United States but said interference by some countries outside the region was a challenge in China-ASEAN relations.

"Frankly, some countries outside the region don't want to see China-ASEAN relations develop so quickly and become so close. Some people, some countries, are constantly interfering in the development of China-ASEAN relations," Liu said.

(Additional reporting by Sanjeev Miglani, and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

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