China begins flexing its muscles…

“I believe the individual countries are playing with fire,” Cui Tiankai, China’s vice foreign minister, said Wednesday. “I hope the fire doesn’t reach the United States.”

China warns U.S. to stay clear of regional disputes

The Seattle Times

Keith B. Richburg & William Wan (Washington Post) June 22nd, 2011

BEIJING — China warned the United States on Wednesday not to let Southeast Asian countries drag it into territorial disputes in the South China Sea, saying the U.S. instead should counsel its allies to show restraint.

“I believe the individual countries are playing with fire,” Cui Tiankai, China’s vice foreign minister, said Wednesday. “I hope the fire doesn’t reach the United States.”

Cui was speaking ahead of a scheduled weekend meeting in Hawaii, where U.S. and Chinese officials plan to open the first round of talks devoted to concerns in the Asian and Pacific regions.

The South China Sea dispute is not formally on the agenda; it was scheduled before tensions erupted this month when a Chinese fishing boat became entangled with a Vietnamese oil-exploration ship, damaging the ship’s undersea research cable.

The clash began an escalating series of taunts, threats and accusations, and culminated in the two sides conducting live-fire military exercises. Anti-Chinese demonstrations also erupted in Vietnam.

The Philippines also has expressed alarm at what it regards as increased Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea, where the Chinese government has warned other Asian countries to stop searching for oil near the disputed Spratly Islands.

Philippine officials this month accused Chinese forces of intruding six times since February into areas claimed by the Philippines and of firing shots on one occasion. China denied the accusations.

The Spratlys, an archipelago of largely uninhabited islands, reefs, cays and atolls, are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan and Vietnam and in part by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

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