China calls out G7 for 'irresponsible' statement on South China Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 26) — The Chinese government dismissed as "irresponsible" the joint statement made by a number of countries on the South China Sea dispute.

"We ask the relevant countries to respect facts, especially when it comes to maritime issues. They should also respect the efforts made by regional countries to uphold stability while focusing on cooperation and development, and refrain from stirring up troubles and making irresponsible remarks," Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said in a media briefing in Beijing Wednesday.

He was asked about the April 23 joint communique released by foreign ministers from seven advanced economies that form the Group of Seven (G7): Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The leaders expressed concern over the long-standing maritime row in the South China Sea, one of the issues they discussed in a meeting on April 22-23 in Toronto, Canada. The European Union was also represented in the meeting.

"We reiterate our strong opposition to any unilateral actions that escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order, such as the threat or use of force, large-scale land reclamation and building of outposts, as well as their use for military purposes," the G7 foreign ministers said.

They said "diplomatic efforts should lead to demilitarization of disputed features" in the South China Sea.

The statements come amid the reported presence of two Chinese military planes on Panganiban or Mischief Reef, and China's unveiling of a monument to mark its construction work in Kagitingan or Fiery Cross Reef.

Both are in the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which is being claimed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said it will take diplomatic action whenever necessary, including the filing of a diplomatic protest against China.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, however, stressed the importance of carefully studying the government's moves.

"The reality is that different claimants have different facilities and if in every time there's an improvement or there's something new there, we start shouting at each other, we lose the momentum on the areas that we have had agreements but it does not mean that we are not doing that," Cayetano said in an April 18 forum where he was asked about the military transport planes on Mischief Reef.

He said the claimants are addressing these concerns "in a way that will not harm peace and stability in the region."

China's defense ministry earlier said it has the "natural right" to station troops and deploy defense facilities in the Spratly Islands, maintaining it is part of Chinese territory.

READ: China asserts right to build military structures on Spratly Islands

Arbitral ruling

China has refused to acknowledge the July 12, 2016 arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines and continues to claim the South China Sea in its entirety.

This landmark ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague awarded to the Philippines areas in the South China Sea that lie within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international treaty both the Philippines and China had signed.

The G7 foreign ministers reiterated their stance that the ruling is "a useful basis for further efforts to peacefully resolve disputes in the South China Sea."

Critics have slammed President Rodrigo Duterte's "defeatist" stance on the issue. Duterte has repeatedly said the country cannot afford to go to war against China, but has promised to bring up the arbitral ruling with China during his term.

Code of conduct

The G7 foreign ministers stressed the importance of a legally binding code of conduct (COC), which will identify what claimant countries can and cannot do in the disputed waters.

The government has yet to announce the start of negotiations for the COC, but Cayetano on April 18 said the parties are still "focusing on how to go about" it.

China, for its part, said it is "always committed to working with the parties directly concerned to properly manage and resolve relevant differences through negotiation and consultation."

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations already signed in 2002 a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, but they have yet to agree on its implementation.