20 Feb 2016

NZ urges calm over South China Sea

6:03 am on 20 February 2016

New Zealand and Australia have asked China to stop raising tensions in the South China Sea.

The city of Sansha on the island of Yongxing, also known as Woody island in the disputed Paracel chain.

The city of Sansha on the island of Yongxing, also known as Woody island in the disputed Paracel chain. Photo: AFP

Tensions between China and its neighbours over sovereignty in the South China Sea were raised after Taiwan and United States officials said China deployed a missile system to Woody Island, in the Paracel Island chain.

At a meeting in Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key urged claimants in the South China Sea to refrain from any building of islands, militarisation of islands, or any land reclamation.

Mr Turnbull said if Chinese President Xi Jinping was serious about avoiding a situation where a rising power caused fear in an established power that escalated toward war, he must resolve disputes through international law.

Mr Key said New Zealand was using its relationship with China to urge it to lower tensions, because it was the first developed country to recognise China as a market economy with a free trade deal.

"As we get a deeper and closer economic relationship with China, does that give us more opportunities to make that case, both privately and publicly? ... my view is yes," said Mr Key, noting that both Australia and New Zealand were now also part of the Asian Investment Bank.

The comments come after Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Beijing, where she bought up the missiles and the South China sea in meetings with Chinese officials, including top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi.

Yang, in a statement released by the Foreign Ministry, said he told Bishop that Australia was not a party to the dispute, should stick to its promises not to take sides and "not participate in or take any actions to harm regional peace and stability or Sino-Australia ties".

The Chinese government has offered few specific details in response to the missiles claim, while accusing Western media of "hyping up" the story and saying China has a legitimate right to military facilities on territory it views as its own.

Beijing has been angered by air and sea patrols the United States has conducted near islands China claims in the region. Those have included one by two B-52 strategic bombers in November and by a US Navy destroyer that sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels last month.

An influential Chinese state-run tabloid, the Global Times, described the HQ-9 missiles that are apparently now on Woody Island as "a typical type of defensive weapon", but warned the People's Liberation Army may feel compelled to deploy more weapons.

"If the US military stages a real threat and a military clash is looming, the PLA may feel propelled to deploy more powerful weapons," the editorial said.

- Reuters