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China Urges US to Stop Flexing Muscles 11/18 06:57

   BANGKOK (AP) -- China on Monday urged the U.S. military to "stop flexing 
muscles" in the disputed South China Sea, a point of persistent friction in a 
relationship both sides said was generally improving.

   A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense, Col. Wu Qian, told 
reporters in Bangkok that the South China Sea was among numerous issues 
discussed earlier in the day when U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper held his 
first face-to-face meeting with the Chinese defense minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe. 
They met for more than half an hour on the margins of a broader Asia defense 
officials' conference.

   "We agreed to keep talking and engaging frequently," Esper told reporters 
afterward in a brief exchange. "We continue to make progress on any number of 
issues."

   The South China Sea for years has been a major point of contention between 
Beijing and Washington. China claims the South China Sea as its sovereign 
territory, but those claims overlap with those of other Asian governments. The 
United States has no territorial stake but has periodically sailed Navy ships 
through areas of the sea that China considers off-limits.

   Wu, the defense ministry spokesman, told a news conference that Esper and 
Wei had a "very positive and constructive" meeting and "agreed in many areas." 
But he was clear that Beijing is irritated at the U.S. Navy's presence in the 
South China Sea. Wu said Wei reaffirmed China's commitment to safeguarding 
"territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests" in the South China 
Sea.

   "The Chinese side also urges the U.S. side to stop flexing muscles in the 
South China Sea and do not provoke and escalate tensions in the South China 
Sea," he said through a Chinese interpreter. Asked by a reporter to be more 
specific about Chinese objections, Wu said the U.S. should "stop intervening in 
the South China Sea and stop military provocations."

   Esper spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a later statement that the U.S. 
defense secretary "pointedly reiterated that the United States will fly, sail 
and operate wherever international law allows --- and we will encourage and 
protect the rights of other sovereign nations to do the same."

   Asked about China's view on the civil unrest in Hong Kong, Wu said, "Ending 
violence and restoring order is the most pressing task we have in Hong Kong."


(KR)

 
 
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