MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines and Vietnam condemned a new Chinese law that requires foreign fishermen to seek Beijing's approval to operate in much of the South China Sea, but China's Foreign Ministry insisted it has the right do so.
China's assertiveness in pressing its claims in the strategic waters, which are believed to have significant seabed gas and oil deposits, has unnerved its smaller neighbors and created a potential military flash point. Anger is especially acute in the Philippines and Vietnam, which believe they have strong claims on waters off their shores.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Friday that the new Chinese regulation "escalates tensions, unnecessarily complicates the situation in the South China Sea, and threatens the peace and stability of the region."
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said the law and other moves by China in recent months are "illegal and invalid" and seriously violate Vietnam's sovereignty.
"Vietnam demands that China abolish the above said erroneous acts, and practically contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region," he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday that there was no change to existing regulations but a technical amendment.
"There is no need at all to reinforce China's long-standing and clear claim of rights and interests over the South China Sea by passing a local regulation," Hua said.
"There is nothing wrong with the law and the regulation," she said. "It is because those who read into the law adopted a wrong mindset."
The Philippines said it asked China for clarification. It said the regulation, which took effect this month, reinforces China's expansive territorial claims and violates international law, particularly the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. It also said the rule was contrary to a 2002 declaration that China signed with the 10-member Association of the Southeast Asian Nations, including the Philippines and Vietnam, to refrain from changing the status quo.
The Philippines and Vietnam are among the most vocal critics of China's claims over virtually the entire South China Sea, which infringe on their own 200-mile (322-kilometer) exclusive economic zones. China and other claimants have beefed up their navies and stepped up patrols around island groups also claimed by others, increasing the risk of confrontation.
The U.S. has also criticized China's move, calling it "provocative and potentially dangerous."
But China on Friday asked the United States to stay out, as Beijing prefers negotiations with individual countries. "If the U.S. really wants to safeguard regional peace and stability, it should respect and support relevant countries' efforts to solve problems through direct dialogues and negotiation," Hua said.
Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea, which is an important global shipping route.
Associated Press writer Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.
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