World

Minister: US, China cannot afford conflict

SYDNEY: Beijing has played down the prospects of conflict with the US over the South China Sea in the wake of an aggressive rhetoric by Mr Donald Trump's administration, saying both sides would lose.

China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the region despite rival claims from its South-east Asian neighbours and has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.

The islands are considered a potential flashpoint, and recent comments from White House spokesman Sean Spicer and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have raised the temperature.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on a visit to Australia that war would benefit no-one.

"For any sober-minded politician, they clearly recognise that there cannot be conflict between China and the United States," he said in Canberra late on Tuesday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

"Both will lose, and both sides cannot afford that."

Last month, Mr Spicer said the US "is going to make sure we protect our interests" in the South China Sea, while Mr Tillerson said China's access to the islands might be blocked - raising the prospect of a military confrontation.

Mr Wang responded to this point yesterday by saying the US needs to brush up on its history about the South China Sea, as World War Two-related agreements mandated that all Chinese territories taken by Japan had to be returned to China.

He said the 1943 Cairo Declaration and 1945 Potsdam Declaration clearly state that Japan had to return to China all Chinese territory taken by Japan.

"This includes the Nansha Islands," Mr Wang said, using China's name for the Spratly Islands.

But he did add that US-China relationship had defied "all sorts of difficulties" over decades and pointed to more recent statements by US Defence Secretary James Mattis that it is important to give priority to diplomatic efforts. - WIRE SERVICES

Southeast AsiaChinaAustralia