BEIJING — China said Tuesday that it hopes to work with the Philippines' new government to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but insisted the onus is on Manila to lower tensions.
Beijing hopes the Philippines will "meet China halfway, taking concrete measures to properly deal with the disputes so as to put the ties of the two countries back on the track of sound development," Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a daily news briefing.
Lu said that while the two countries have a traditional friendship, bilateral relations have been "hit by major setbacks in recent years, due to reasons known to all" — a reference to moves by the Philippines to assert its claims and activities by the U.S. challenging China's actions.
Beijing and Manila have for years accused one another of infringing on each other's territory in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety.
Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has said he would negotiate directly with China on the dispute, aligning with China's stance, as reiterated by Lu, that disputes "should be properly settled by countries directly concerned through negotiation and consultation while respecting the historical facts and international law."
However, Duterte has also said that if negotiations fail, he would sail to one of China's newly built artificial islands and plant the Philippine flag on it.
Duterte's election should be good news for Beijing, which is known to disdain outgoing Philippine President Benigno Aquino III over his legal challenges to China's sovereignty claims and moves to strengthen security cooperation with the U.S., a key treaty ally of Manila.
Although he has not articulated an overall foreign policy, Duterte has described himself as a socialist wary of the U.S.-Philippine security alliance. He has worried members of the armed forces by saying that communist rebels could play a role in his government.
Lu, meanwhile, criticized the U.S. Navy's latest sail-by to challenge what it considers China's excessive claims that its man-made islands enjoy the legal rights of natural islands, and to combat what it considers attempts by China to reduce the Navy's ability to freely travel within the South China Sea and in its airspace.
The destroyer USS William P. Lawrence passed within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of Fiery Cross Reef on Tuesday, the limit of what international law regards as an island's territorial sea, according to U.S. media reports. Lu said Chinese authorities monitored, followed and issued warnings to the ship.
"I must point out that relevant actions by the U.S. Naval vessel threatened China's sovereignty and security interests, put the personnel and facilities on the islands and reefs at risk and endangered regional peace and stability," Lu said.
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